When General Motors became the largest contributor to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., over a decade ago, vide president Eric Peterson could not have possibly fathomed that an African American would be in residence atver the White House. No one could have.

For Peterson and millions of others nationwide, the symbolism in having President Obama unveil the completed MLK memorial on Aug. 28, 2011, is both powerful and multilayered.

“It’s very difficult not to get emotional, quite frankly. Just thinking what he stood for and all the trials and all the tribulations. And what he went through personally to give the message of hope, of equality and provide opportunities for others on that aspect,” Peterson said privately prior to the start of the 42nd NAACP Image Awards in Los Angeles.

“So for me, personally, when I look at what he’s done, it just builds something inside of me to ask, ‘what can I do on a personal basis, on a professional basis?’ We’re going to do whatever it takes to make a difference in the community where we do business.”

GM was one of the first corporations to get involved when it gave $10 million towards the completion of the King statue and memorial on the National Mall. As a way to create additional momentum towards that historic day in August — King will be the first non-president and African American to have his likeness immortalized on the National Mall — GM has partnered with Spike DDB agency to create a dynamic campaign to increase awareness of the importance of this occasion.

More than that, GM is channeling its inner Martin Luther King as the automotive manufacturer provides over $27 million, along with United Way, to transform education in Southeast Michigan. Quality education was, of course, one of the issues that King campaigned hardest for.

“When I think of Dr. King, it makes you say, ‘hey, look at what he did? Look at what he sacrificed to plant the seed and get us thinking that way‘. And I want to do my part. And hopefully all Americans — black, white, brown and yellow — will go to the memorial and find out what he stood for. And hopefully, it will create something in all of us that says ’we’ve got to support others and it’s not about us.’ It’s about how we can make the world a better place,” he says.

terry shropshire

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