‘In order for it to be a great America, there must be a great Black America’: VP Kamala Harris visits Charles H. Wright Museum

Vice President Kamala Harris visited Detroit on Monday, bringing a transformative vision for the automotive industry’s future with an announcement of $100 million in funding. This significant investment will empower small and medium-sized auto manufacturers to upgrade their facilities and pivot towards the production of electric vehicles (EVs), a crucial shift that aligns with America’s climate and economic goals. Harris made this announcement at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, alongside Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Deputy Secretary Don Graves, Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, and Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su.

“I believe that America economy is powered by the ambition and the aspiration of her people,” shared Vice President Kamala Harris. “The ambition and aspiration to innovate, to create and to prosper. Therefore, to grow our economy, we must invest in that ambition and those aspirations. I believe every person in our country must have access to the opportunity to compete, to succeed, and to thrive; the ability to achieve what I call financial freedom, which means having enough not just to get by but to get ahead.”

PHOTO: VP Kamala Harris speaks at Charles H. Wright Museum

Breaking down the investment, $50 million comes from the Department of Energy’s Automotive Conversion Grants program. This will directly support small and medium-sized suppliers as they transition from producing internal combustion engine parts to the specialized components needed for EVs. Such funding seeks to preserve good-paying, union jobs, ensuring that workers continue to thrive in the very communities that have long been home to the automotive industry as it shifts into a cleaner, greener era.

PHOTO: LT. Governor Garlin Gilchrist speaks at Charles H. Wright Museum

“Something that we understand here in Michigan, especially in the city of Detroit, is that we’re a city that has historically defined wealth creation for the Black community here in America. See, there are so many people around the country who, when they came to Detroit for the first time, they saw Black people with money. We show it better than most,” Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist jokingly admitted. “What underlines is the fact that people saw a path to progress here in Detroit, Michigan. Whether you were families who came as part of the great migration, like my own, or whether you were entrepreneurs who were so enterprising that discrimination couldn’t keep you out of your dreams. Michigan was a land of opportunity. But too many people too often feel designed out of opportunity today. That’s why we are so proud that this administration has said, no, we will reject any people being blocked out of opportunity.”

Another $50 million will flow through the Industrial Assessments Center Implementation Grants Program, which aims to help suppliers modernize their facilities for greater energy and material efficiency, bolster cybersecurity and productivity, and ultimately cut greenhouse gas emissions. This ensures the automotive sector is well-equipped to embrace sustainability while enhancing its global competitiveness.

In addition, Harris will introduce a new Small Business Administration initiative to provide manufacturers with the support they need to diversify their businesses and offer lines of credit to small companies, particularly those in auto parts manufacturing. This comprehensive strategy will strengthen America’s supply chain, reduce economic vulnerability, and create opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Secretary Granholm laid the groundwork for this during her March visit to Michigan, announcing a new workforce program that will train battery manufacturers to meet the rising demand for EV production. This latest initiative is a direct extension of President Biden’s commitment to developing an electric vehicle hub in Michigan, focusing on job training through partnerships with employers, community colleges, and high schools to prepare the workforce for a new era of automotive manufacturing.

PHOTO: Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, and Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su. 

“So, as of today, applications are open for a first of its kind fellowship that will help ensure that local workers can get those jobs,” announced Granholm. “The program is called Readiness Accelerator for Major Programs or RAMP. It is the connective tissue between a job provider who wants to offer a job and a worker who wants to get a job.”

“In President Biden’s and vice President Harris’s America, we are building a workforce infrastructure that connects all communities. That is the bridge from poverty to prosperity and from racial exclusion to real equity,” acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su said. “And that’s why we have named Detroit the workforce hub.”

This bold investment aims to redefine the future of the automotive industry by ensuring that small and medium-sized manufacturers can seamlessly transition to producing electric vehicles. But we must ask: what is the ultimate goal here, and will it truly uplift the Black community and other marginalized groups who have historically been left behind in economic shifts? As Vice President Kamala Harris emphasizes job creation, training programs, and investment in underserved communities, will this funding ensure that these changes translate into tangible economic opportunities for the most affected communities, or will the promise of progress bypass those who need it most?

“Too often, people hear workforce development, and they just think about training,” said Su. “Black workers and other workers have been left out, not because they lack the skills, but because we have not built the roads and bridges that connects all communities to new jobs. And so we are going to fix that this time. We’re going to do it right this time.”

It’s not the first time this administration has attempted to connect with local communities in Michigan. President Biden’s recent visit to Saginaw drew criticism from some community leaders, who felt that he didn’t meet with enough Black community members and skipped a planned visit to a Black church. These concerns are a reminder that bold initiatives require genuine, inclusive engagement to achieve meaningful change.

“For many of us, the wealth gap has been a conversation that we have had for hundreds of years. Our black families and white families have a huge difference between the financial wherewithal of our communities,” said Ron Busby, president and CEO of the US Black Chambers, Incorporated in Washington, DC. “The only way you can truly find solutions is through good policies, policies that are intentional, transparent and accountable. That’s what today is all about.”

Amidst all the bells and whistles on Monday at the Charles H. Wright Museum one must wonder, will this new announcement strike the right chord with the communities it intends to uplift, or will it miss the mark again in ensuring Black voices are actively heard and their economic interests are tangibly prioritized?

“As this year progresses, we are going to hear a lot about making America great again,” said Busby. “But we say, in order for it to be a great America, there must be a great – Black America. And in order to get to be a great Black America, we must have great Black businesses. And in order to have great Black businesses, we need an administration and leadership that understands the challenges as well as the benefits supporting our community.”

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