The 2017 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) is taking place with a lot of “hidden figures” that many will not see while they visit Detroit. However, Toyota Motor North America and the Salvation Army have come together to honor some of these hidden figures in the most selfless of ways. These hidden figures are in need of love, compassion and simply someone to take a moment out of their time to tell them “you matter.” These seemingly forgotten about mothers and children are phenomenal women and little ones who will do much for society when someone simply reaches out to care.
The talented Black actresses Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer all represent the very essence of Black girl magic as they portrayed brilliant NASA mathematicians in the award-winning film Hidden Figures. Hidden Figures the movie, demonstrated the drive in each woman to always be better and do better, even when life presented challenges. In the same way, Toyota Motor North America and the Salvation Army are supporting our own hidden figures — homeless mothers and children — who, just like the women in the movie, needed a little support in tough times.
The 2017 NAIAS has a very compassionate component to it that might be missed by most mass media outlets. In the city of Detroit, poverty is no stranger. It is often besieging the lives of young women and their children. However, Toyota Motor North America and the Salvation Army are here to offer rescue and to provide a glimmer of hope for those who need a warm and compassionate saving grace. Toyota’s “Walk in My Boots” community outreach program is a phenomenal program that has been going on for six years and provides thousands of dollars in monetary donations and insulated boots and socks to cover the feet of families in need. The annual program happens in part because Toyota and its global team have found compassion as a steward of their brand to provide for these children and mothers in dire need.
The smiles on the faces of the families are all the gratitude that Toyota’s director of multicultural dealer relations and business strategy, Alva Mason says is needed. To help encourage and uplift the families this year, Toyota brought in Motown superstar Ronnie McNeir of the Four Tops who lovingly led the participants in a finger-snapping-acapella-rendition of their familiar hit song Family Reunion. McNeir gave a heartfelt testimony of his humbled beginnings leaving the audience with the message that staying ready leads to opportunities of a lifetime, and that it’s never too late to get a new start. He reminisced on the fact that he wasn’t always a part of the group, and that he started out playing piano for the Four Tops while accepting lower wages. But he stayed passionate and dedicated to perfecting his craft, by learning other key areas of interests, which included singing. Opportunity finally revealed itself and at that particular moment McNeir was able to become an official member of the Four Tops group because he was prepared and stayed the course, even in conditions that were not perfect.
Greg Jackson, president and CEO, Prestige Automotive Group, which includes Prestige Warren Toyota, also gave the families hope as he shared remnants of his childhood memories that made him into the man he is today. He spoke about the Toyota program being special to him because he lived in a place similar to the homeless shelter the women and children lived in. He talked about coming from a good home, full of love, with six children and a mother and father, and how blessed he was to have help from the outside. He left everyone with the message of “Don’t be discouraged with where you are right now because you don’t have to be where you are right now.” The voice of hope that came from this Toyota dealership owner was not of a multimillionaire, but more of a person whose heart was felt in all the eyes and smiles and moments that could be seen as a result of the Salvation Army and the Toyota team bringing them all together; those individuals whose love for the future could be seen in the eyes of the small children who enjoyed every moment of their new boots and the love that was being shared by all.
Amid the hype of auto show season, it’s very clear that Toyota has found a way to not just popularize their vehicle models, but also popularize the model of compassionately giving back to its community, alongside institutions like the Salvation Army here in Detroit. They also invited me out to sign and give away my first children’s book, Little Professor Skye’s Favorite Things. The sentiment was simple: by recognizing the gifts of others, such as myself, we were able to bless event attendees with my books and the hopes and dreams that come along with Little Professor Skye. I passed out and personally signed a copy for each child who wanted a copy. The parents and grandparents were elated to tell me their children’s names with gratitude and love as I wrote messages of inspiration in each book that read “dream big,” “be smart” and “smart kids read.” But it’s here that Toyota and the 2017 team put together an entire community engagement effort that will touch the soles and souls of children for days to come. The gesture was uplifting, not just benevolent, but one that gave the women and children the needed encouragement that their situations are only a temporary moment in time and can be changed in an instant if they dream big and prepare for future opportunities.
This year, allow the 2017 auto show to be more than just an example of showcasing models of new cars, but a showcase of kindheartedness and corporate compassion from Toyota, and all those involved who know firsthand that giving back to our community resurrects the spirits that are often temporarily broken. It allows young geniuses to be made, such as the women in the movie Hidden Figures, by seeing the hope, being given the instructions and being allowed to walk in the shoes of those who came before them. In remembering the Serenity Prayer and remembering that there is a grace that is there for us all, as long as we continue this compassion, we will make a difference. Great job to the Toyota team, Ronnie McNeir of the Four Tops, Greg Jackson of Prestige Automotive and Jackson Asset Management, as well as the Salvation Army, for giving hope and allowing me to participate as an author, giving out boots and books to all the children and families.
Photo gallery credit: Porsha Monique for Steed Media