DEARBORN - Ford Motor Company’s rich automotive history has helped fuel the success of African-American auto dealers in Southeast Michigan. The Ford-employees African-Ancestry Network (FAAN) honored these dealers at the 33rd Annual Black History Month Celebration held at the Dearborn Inn in Dearborn, Mich. on Feb. 21.
Bennie Fowler, Ford group vice president, Quality and New Model Launch, welcomed over 500 Ford employees and guests to FAAN’s premier event. Fowler acknowledged Ford officers and newly appointed members of the Ford senior management team who were in the audience.
Sherri Shepard, co-host of The View was the emcee for the evening. Shepard shared a little background on her family history with Ford. “My cousin was in Human Resources and Marketing and my father-in-law was a line man,” said Shepard who also competed in the fourteenth season of ABC’s popular Dancing with the Stars.
The keynote speaker for the event is well known for his critically acclaimed PBS documentary, Finding Your Roots, of which Ford Motor Company is a proud sponsor. Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., shared how his fascination with genealogy began. “It all started with the passing of my grandfather when I was 9 years old,” said Gates. “My father shared some old family photos with me and from that day forward, I became intrigued with learning about the people in those photos and my heritage.”
Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Gates is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University, as well as director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research. He also is editor-in-chief of TheRoot.com, a daily online magazine focusing on issues of interest to the African-American community. “I didn’t know that organizations like FAAN existed. Ford Motor Company having an organization like FAAN does my heart good,” said Gates.
Gates noted that he owes much of his success to Ford Motor Company. “I drove 424 miles from my parents’ home to the front gates of Calhoun College at Yale University in a 1968 Ford Mustang. The rest is history,” Dr. Gates said.
The awards ceremony kicked off with a video that shared the story of the first Ford dealers in the 1930’s and their progress over the years. Former Ford Executive Vice-President, Philip Benton, was acknowledged for being the catalyst in making Ford’s Minority Dealer Program a priority at Ford Motor Company.
Six of Ford’s southeast Michigan African-American dealers, who share the company’s solid legacy, also were honored:
2014 Heritage Award Honorees:
Nathan G. Conyers, founder and president of Conyers Riverside Ford, Inc.
In 1970, Conyers and his brother John launched Conyers Ford. There were only twenty black-owned dealerships in the United States at that time. In 1979, Conyers established the Ford Lincoln Mercury Black Dealers Association and Acquired Riverside Ford, Inc. in Detroit, Mich. Conyers Riverside Ford is the longest serving African-American car dealer in the country.
Walter E. Douglas entered into a car dealer ownership minority training program hosted by Ford Motor Company. The program was established to give more African-Americans an opportunity to own dealerships. In 1986, Douglas purchased a share in Avis Ford in suburban Detroit. In 1992, Douglas became majority owner. His sons Mark and Edmond currently run the dealership and Walt serves as Chairman.
2014 Community Service Award Honorees:
Merlton Brandenberg, president and owner of Jorgensen Ford Sales, Inc. in Detroit, Mich. and Advantage Lincoln Mercury Sales in Fremont, Ohio.
Greg Jackson, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Jackson Automotive Management and Prestige Automotive Group which includes Courtesy Ford in Okemos, Mich.
Gilbert S. Johnson, owner, Saginaw Valley Ford Lincoln, Inc.
Eddie Hall, owner, Briarwood Ford, Saline, Mich. and Royal Oak Ford, Royal Oak, Mich.
Dr. Gates, Sherry Shepherd and Bennie Fowler
Edmond and Mark Douglas (w/Sherri Shepherd) accept the Heritage Award for their father, Walter Douglas (Avis Ford)
Dr. Gates with Judge Damon Keith
Nathan Conyers daughter accepts Heritage award for her father
Dr. Gates receiving his award (pictured L-R) Bennie Fowler, Gwen Moore, Dr. Gates and Steve Lewis
Community Service Dealer Honorees (Daniel Wallace (accepting for Greg Jackson, Okemos Ford); Merlton Brandenberg – Jorgensen Ford; and Gilbert S. (Gil) Johnson, Saginaw Valley Ford Lincoln; Not pictured – honoree Eddie Hall – Royal Oak Ford
The 33rd Annual Black History Month Celebration keynote speaker, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.,is well known for his critically acclaimed PBS documentary, Finding Your Roots, of which Ford Motor Company is a proud sponsor.