You made sure education and innovation were a part of the spirit of what you gave to Detroit, why?
Authenticity. That’s what really works with my relationship with GE. And as a public figure, I’ve been really careful to align myself with things that I actually am passionate about, things that I actually like the way they look. Also, I align myself with people who care about giving back to the city. So, if you ever hear me speak or talk about people that I work with, partners that I have, or brands that I want to endorse or work with, if they’re not supporting the school, then I’m not working with them. When I started the school, Jeep stepped right up to the plate and became our number one corporate donor.
It’s bigger than the money. It is the time and mentorship. They had a group of our students go off-roading with some high-level executives recently. When I have seniors that go off to college and our secondary education, G also helps with scholarship funds. Because usually, inner-city kids, when they drop out of school, their first or second year, a lot of times, it’s because of finances, more so than anything else. We have a corporate sponsor like GE, in an organic relationship.
My mother worked at Chrysler when I grew up. She was a key puncher there for over 20 years. So, when I was little, we had a Chrysler Cordoba, and I could go on and on and on about all of the crises that we had. She always kept a Grand Cherokee. That’s what she drove. So, it’s an authentic relationship. They’re passionate about giving back to the city just like I am. So it’s meaningful. And that level of meaning has now had influence.
We have 400 plus scholars in JLA, currently, but we also have 600 alums that we still serve. We’re a nine through 16 model, that’s including community college, college or university, military and trade school. Normally, when you graduate from high school, you throw your hat in the air, and you see everybody has a 10-year, 20-year reunion. But the job ain’t done because you can’t get the job you used to get right out of high school. And we all notice. That’s a barrier in America, that in theory, a lot of ways sets kids that look like me up to fail. I want to support them, those 4 years after they’ve graduated high school, and Jeep has been paramount to [helping make] that happen.