The initiative is the brainchild of Black Automotive Media Group, an organization of Black media experts grounded in automotive journalism. They want to build a future generation of auto media professionals by partnering with automakers to offer 10-week internships and a guest lecture series at HBCUs around the country.
Those internships — which incorporate everything from media courses to mentoring sessions with auto executives — are geared toward training students to either cover or work in the auto industry. Black Automotive Media Group calls the program the Driving Force.
Kimatni Rawlins, a founding member of Black Automotive Media Group and the founder and publisher of Automotive Rhythms Communications, told Automotive News the idea for the Driving Force came about in 2020, when he and his colleagues saw Black individuals in multiple industries asking employees and corporations to do more to facilitate diversity and inclusion after the murder of George Floyd.
One of the many questions he and his peers discussed: How could they increase the talent pool of young Black auto media professionals?
“I was thinking of some type of internship where we could break down knowledge and tutelage to these students of what we do in the industry and how to get there — the pathway, the steps — to make it into this world,” said Rawlins, who drew from his own internship experience with luxury vehicle maker Jaguar. “It’s tough to get into.”
So far, four HBCUs have partnered with automakers to offer training and mentoring during internships: Howard University paired with Ford Motor Co., Lincoln University paired with Audi of America, North Carolina Central University paired with Stellantis and Clark Atlanta University paired with General Motors.
The program first ran at Howard in fall 2020. Lincoln University came on board and offered internships last spring. Student interns at North Carolina Central and Clark Atlanta are now four weeks into their programs. Stellantis told Automotive News it is open to expanding its support of the Driving Force to other HBCUs.
“We’re continuously talking to schools and expanding,” Rawlins said. “We just talked to Jackson State [University] … and we talked to Nissan, and they think they might want to partner because they have a plant in Canton, Miss.”
To date, 50 scholars have gone through the program, which offers college credit and stipends.
“What we’re fighting for … is to honor diversity from an African American perspective,” Rawlins said. “We would like our own resources, as well. We would like our own advertising … our own experiential marketing programs that speak to us. … And then, of course, increase those resources, so we’re not always fighting for crumbs.”