HOLLYWOOD — When Rex Blackwell drove to Saginaw, Mich. a week before starting his new position, he decided to park his car and take a walk through the neighborhood.
“It was hot, and I saw people with mattresses out on the street,” said Blackwell, now manager of the General Motors Fairfax Assembly Plant in Kansas City, Kansas.
“I walked by and said, ‘Hello,’ but many did not look me in the face,” he said, adding that “the situation was horrible.”
That following week, Blackwell said, after speaking with Saginaw’s city manager and chiefs of fire and police, he decided to help the community by rekindling an outreach program sponsored by a few of the plant’s employees.
Blackwell, along with Vivian Rogers Pickard, president of the GM Foundation and director of corporate relations, was a guest speaker at the 100 Black Men of America Inc.’s 24th Annual Conference.
The five-day conference, themed “Mentoring the 100 Way Across A LifetimeTM,” took place June 16-20 at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood.
A non-profit civic-and community-based organization, 100 Black Men of America seeks to serve as a beacon of leadership by utilizing its members’ diverse talents to create environments in which black children are motivated to achieve.
Blackwell’s role in the conference, he said, was “to introduce people to the African American in charge of the largest plant that GM now has in terms of producing two hot vehicles.”
Blackwell’s plant, builder of the Buick LaCrosse and Chevrolet Malibu, produces more cars than any other GM plant in the country, he said.
“We want young black men and women to look at someone in that role and say, ‘If he can do that, I can do that.’ It’s our commitment to the 100 [Black Men of
It is also a part of Blackwell’s personal commitment to give back.
A native of Lagrange, Ill. and a 32-year GM employee, Blackwell lives his passion: supporting the communities in which he works.
“I have moved three times in the last 14 months and most of our plants are located in some pretty tough areas,” he said.
While in Saginaw, Blackwell said, he visited one of the correctional facilities housing youth ages 15 to 18.
“I would talk to them, tell them that I knew some of the things they were going through and then offer options,” he said.
Blackwell added that if he could stay in a place long enough, “I would go back into the penal system and talk to some of the young men in hopes that they will not end up in the penitentiary.”
A native of Flint, Mich., Pickard began her GM career as a co-op student in the company’s Fisher Body Plant.
At that time, she said, Flint “was all General Motors. If you lived there, that’s what you did, or you worked in education.”
Pickard said that she has worked in “most areas” of GM, starting out as the young lady who “went around the office, picked up the time cards and documented the time.”
Her parents, like many blacks during the 1950s and 60s, migrated north seeking opportunities in the automobile industry, a move that she says, “boosted the black middle class.”
Many of Pickard’s relatives, she said, migrated as well because “that’s where the great jobs were.”
And mainly, the Central Michigan University graduate said, “it was GM.”
In 1994, Pickard moved to GM’s public policy center, later working in community relations until December of last year, when she was appointed as the foundation’s president.
In her role as president, Pickard, now in Detroit, is responsible for reviewing and making decisions regarding grants as well as the foundation’s strategy involving efforts in giving. She is also responsible for corporate relations.
The elderly community in nearby Pontiac, Mich., Pickard said, “is very poor.”
Pickard volunteers for Pontiac Meals on Wheels, an agency that serves the nutritional needs of the homebound and congregate elderly.
“Helping to meet the needs of seniors and provide services for them is my passion,” she said.
Photo: Vivian Rogers Pickard