MotorCities National Heritage Area logo
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Making Tracks chronicles the experience of African-Americans in the auto industry. As you explore the stories and support materials, please take time to reflect on the significant contributions over the last century of auto heritage. The individual profiles will highlight stories of ingenuity, creativity, leadership, and perseverance. Utilize the timeline and additional support materials as tools to gain more context about the time in which these events occurred and how they align with the national landscape.

 

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Many Voices, One Story

Junior Ranger program

 

We seek to represent the shared stories of how this region put the world on wheels across a diverse and inclusive range of people with a wide variety of backgrounds, languages and cultures.

As construction of the page continues, look for more content that reflects the diversity of the 10,000 square miles of the MotorCities National Heritage Area.  

 

Making Tracks Mast Head 900 pixel width updated Feb 2011 

Making Tracks

The auto industry provided a new opportunity for those who lived in Michigan, as well as those who traveled from near and far. MakingTracks.org looks back at the African American experience in the auto industry from the industry's beginnings to the present day. This culture represented the migration of workers and families to the Motor Cities. Their work was hard, and their paths were not smooth. The website talks about adjustment to the north, the climate in their communities and treatment at their jobs. It also highlights the triumphs and tragedies of a people who contributed to building the auto industry, with a nod to many trailblazers and their accomplishments. 

This video serves as a preview of the Making Tracks website and how the project came together.

 

Southwest Detroit Auto Heritage Guide masthead 5.7.20 

This part of the MotorCities website chronicles the auto legacy built by the diverse entrepreneurs, workers, businesses and unions of Southwest Detroit over more than a century. Learn more here. 

Alliance of National Heritage Areas 

Click below to read a position paper on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion from the Alliance of National Heritage Areas (ANHA), focusing on racial equity, community empowerment, and social cohesion -- the sociocultural impacts of National Heritage Areas.

 

2023 Stories

Auto Designer Crystal Windham: Blazing a Trail at GM

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For Black History Month, we are sharing an interview recently conducted by Brian Yopp, MotorCities’ Deputy Director, with Crystal Windham, Executive Director of Global Industrial Design for General Motors. Learn more about Windham, and watch the interview here.

Rajo Jack, One of the First Black American Racers

Rajo Jack Don Radbrunch Collection 1 

One of the first African American race car drivers in the country, Rajo Jack (July 28, 1905 - February 28, 1956) was born in San Francisco in 1905. He grew up a huge fan of auto racing and early racer Barney Oldfield. You can see his complete story here

Our Own Automotive Historian: Robert Tate

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MotorCities' own automotive historian and researcher, Robert Tate, recounts his childhood love of cars, educational path and four decades of documenting auto history and collecting memorabilia. You can see his story and watch his interview with our Deputy Director Brian Yopp here

The Story of Black "Rosie the Riveters"

Clara Doutly ClickOnDetroit 1

During World War II, “Rosie the Riveter” became a popular icon after the production of famous government poster in 1943. Most of the women who stepped into industrial jobs did it in segregated workplaces. About 600,000 Black women left their other jobs to join the war effort working in defense plants. Read a story about African American "Rosies" like Betty Reid Soskin, Clara Doutly and others here

Angela Henderson: A Diversity Champion at Ford

Angela Henderson Ford CROPPED AND RESIZED

Angela Henderson has had a more than 25-year career at Ford Motor Company, moving up through the ranks in manufacturing, product development and global purchasing to her current position as Director, Supply Chain Strategy & Business Office. In her previous position, she became the company’s first Head of Racial Equity. You can see more about her story and watch an interview with Henderson and our Deputy Director Brian Yopp here.

John A. James: A Giant in Logistics & Transportation

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John A. James is Founder and Chairman of James Group International. Our Deputy Director, Brian Yopp, recently conducted an interview with James to conclude Black History Month. You can learn more about James' story and see the interview here.

Nellie Goins: The First African American Woman Funny Car Driver 

Mustang funny car with Nellie Goins NHRA 3 

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, "Nitro" Nellie Goins was the first African American woman driver in the funny car racing category. You can learn more about her story and racing career here.

Alice Ramsey and Women Who Became Auto Mechanics

Alice Ramsey next to her automobile Library of Congress 1

In 1909, Alice Ramsey (pictured above) made history by becoming the first woman to drive across the United States. She paved the way for future women in various automotive professions, including car mechanics. For more on her story and other women mechanics, click here.

The Influence of Women Consumers on Automotive Design

 1956 Lincoln Premiere convertible in Westeria color combination Mecum Auctions CROPPED AND RESIZED 3

In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, women consumers began to exert more influence on buying decisions relating to automobiles. To read an article on this topic and see more images, click here.

Autism Awareness Month: Don & Edward Nicholson 

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For Autism Awareness Month, our Deputy Director Brian Yopp recently conducted an interview with Don Nicholson of Westland, whose son Edward is in the autism spectrum. You watch the interview here.

2022 Stories

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Walter Reuther Marched Down Woodward Avenue in 1963
MLK Marches Down Woodward with Walter Reuther Reuther Library 1

In honor of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, MotorCities is sharing this story of the June 1963 March to Freedom event in Detroit and the supporting role played UAW President Walter Reuther (pictured at left in the above photo) and area auto workers. See the article here. 

A Conversation with Ed Welburn, former GM VP of Global Design
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Ed Welburn faced challenges as one of the first African Americans to work in the design studio at General Motors, but he rose to become their first-ever head of global design as part of a distinguished 44-year career. Watch a wide-ranging interview with him here.

More with Sabin Blake, General Motors' Director, North American Business Communications

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In a new video posted to our Making Tracks website, Sabin Blake discusses his family lineage, career at GM and importance of the African-American experience to the American story. You can see the entire interview with Blake here

13 Questions for General Motors' Kimberly Brycz

Kimberly Brycz GM head shot


For Women's History Month, General Motors named Kimberly Brycz Senior Vice President, Global Human Resources in 2018.
MotorCities recently had the opportunity to interview Brycz about her life and career. Thanks to MotorCities board member Sabin Blake, GM’s Director of North American Business Communications, for his assistance. You can read the entire interview here. 

A "Rosie the Riveter" Shares Her Memories at 100

Clara Doutly with Brian and Jeannette Gutierrez CROPPED and RESIZED
Clara Doutly (pictured above in the center with Jeannette Gutierrez and our own Brian Yopp) is an original World War II "Rosie the Riveter."  At age 100, she recounts her time working at Briggs Manufacturing in the 1940s and some amazing experiences as a celebrated Rosie. You can watch the interview here.

The Importance of Role Models for Women in the Auto Industry: A Women's History Month Panel

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Our 19th MotorCities At Home virtual and in-person session for Women's History Month took place at The Henry Ford and focused on "The Importance of Role Models for Women in the Auto Industry." Thanks to our panelists from left to right, Anindita Anne Partington of the University of Michigan, Sandya Jackson of General Motors, and Angela Henderson of Ford Motor Company, along with our Executive Director and Moderator Shawn Pomaville Size. You can watch the program here.
 

Arab American History Month: Ismael Ahmed

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Ismael Ahmed is currently a member of the National Council on the Arts, having been nominated by President Joe Biden last year and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in December. During his long career of public service, Ahmed was co-founder of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) in 1973 and became its executive director in 1983. He also was a prime mover behind the creation of the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn. To learn more about Ahmed, including his early days with the United Auto Workers, watch the complete interview by clicking here.
 

40th Anniversary of Vincent Chin's Murder Observed Vincent Chin 3

This June marked the 40th anniversary of the events that caused Vincent Chin’s death. A coalition of civil rights groups, including ACJ, are hosted a series of events to remember Chin and the legacy his death sparked. Chin's murder in 1982 by a pair of auto workers still resonates today as the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered more resentment and violence against Chinese and other Asian Americans. Read our article about Vincent Chin here.

Pride Month: Oakland County Executive David Coulter
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For Pride Month this year, MotorCities presents an interview conducted by our Executive Director Shawn Pomaville-Size with Oakland County Executive David Coulter. He currently serves as Oakland County's third County Executive. Coulter has more than two decades of local government and executive experience. He represented Southeast Oakland County on the Board of Commissioners from 2002-2010, where he became the first openly gay elected official in state history. 

Watch the entire interviewhere.
 

Dream Cruise Week: Meet Adam Bernard

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The week of the Woodward Dream Cruise has to be one of the favorite weeks of the year for Royal Oak resident Adam Bernard. He has served as president for the Detroit region of the Lambda Car Club, an auto enthusiast group for the LGBTQ community, since 2011.

Recently, MotorCities’ Director of Programs & Operations Brian Yopp interviewed Bernard about his involvement in the Lambda Car Club. Watch the interview here.

Remembering the Automotive Design Work of Mimi Vandermolen

Mimi Vandermolen working on a Ford interior Ford Motor Company Archives 1

Born in the Netherlands, Mimi J. (Willemina) Vandermolen was a talented Ford Motor Company designer that helped create and shape many automotive projects. Her journey started in 1965 at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto, where she graduated in 1969 with a degree in Industrial Design. Within a year, Vandermolen was hired by Ford, joining a growing number of female designers that came on board during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The full story is here.

2021 Stories

10 Questions for UAW President Rory Gamble

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MotorCities recently had the opportunity to interview Rory Gamble, the first African American president of the United Auto Workers International Union, about his life and career for Black History Month 2021. Thanks to MotorCities board member Sandra Engle, Assistant Director of the UAW National Education Department, for her assistance. See the article here.

A Q & A with the UAW's Cindy Estrada

UAW.Cindy Estrada

For Women's History Month, MotorCities recently interviewed Cindy Estrada, a Vice President of the United Auto Workers International Union. Thanks again to MotorCities board member Sandra Engle for her assistance. See the article here.

Alexander Winton Made Bicycles (and then Cars!) in Cleveland

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April is Scottish American History Month, so here is a feature on Alexander Winton, a Scottish immigrant and early automotive pioneer.

Arab Americans and the Automobile: Voices from the Factory

Ali Baleed Almaklani Arab American Natl Museum RESIZED 750 

April is also Arab American Heritage Month. Ali Baleed Almaklani (pictured above) worked at Ford Motor Company in 1999 and 2000 when he was interviewed for an oral history project for the Cultural Arts Department of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) in Dearborn. The collected oral histories are now part of the collection of the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, as part of their "Arab Americans and the Automobile: Voices from the Factory" Collection. You can hear Almaklani's interview here. Thank you to Elizabeth Barrett-Sullivan and Matthew Stiffler of the Arab American National Museum for their assistance.

NASCAR's First Driver with Autism: Detroit's Own Armani Williams

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April is Autism Awareness Month. Armani Williams (pictured above) is a Detroit-based NASCAR driver, the first openly diagnosed with autism. sHe is using his racing career as a platform to draw awareness to autism, promote research-based solutions, and create better life outcomes for families impacted by the disorder.  Armani has competed coast to coast in the United States and throughout Canada. You can hear his interview here. 

Jewish Contributions to the Auto Industry: Albert Kahn and More

Albert Kahn

May is Jewish American Heritage Month. Albert Kahn (pictured above), the Detroit-based architect, was highly influential in the design of auto manufacturing plants and other industrial and commercial buildings in the 20th Century. He is just one of the topics discussed in this interview recently conducted by MotorCities with Dr. Catherine Cangany, executive director of the Jewish Historical Society of Michigan, and author and historian Barbara Cohn. You can watch the interview here

Asian Americans and the Auto Industry

James Hirata in Diego Rivera DIA mural

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we are showcasing the story of some of the trailblazing Asian Americans in the auto industry. Please read an excerpt reprinted from Victor Jew's introduction to "Part II: Legacy Keeping and Memroy Keepers" from Asian Americans in Michigan: Voices from the Midwest edited by Sook Wilkinson and Victor Jew. Copyright (C) 2015 Wayne State University Press. Used with permission from the author. The excerpt is here. You can learn more about the book at www.wsupress.wayne.edu/books/detail/asian-americans-michigan.

An Interview with Ralph Gilles of Stellantis

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In honor of June being National Caribbean-American Heritage Month, we are reprinting this article that originally appeared in the June 2021 edition of the Zanmi Detroit newsletter, published by the Haitian Network Group of Detroit (HNGD). You can find the newsletter at https://www.haitiannetworkdetroit.org/newsletter/. Article used with permission of the HNGD and the author. You can read the entire article featuring an interview with Ralph Gilles of Stellantis (pictured at right above with his family), a Haitian-American, here

Pride Month Profile: Sabin Blake of General Motors 

Sabin Blake

In honor of Pride Month, we would like to present the story of Sabin Blake, a recent addition to our board of directors. Blake, a Ferndale resident, is Manager of Business Planning & Heritage for General Motors Communications. He has been in the automotive industry for over 23 years with 20 of those spent at GM.

Blake is passionate about community service and giving back. He serves on the Community Foundation of Southeastern Michigan's LGBTQ-focused HOPE Fund Advisory Committee. He also volunteers with other community-based organizations focusing on hunger, community development and education. He is currently serving on the board of directors for the Ruth Ellis Center and as a board member of GMPLUS, the GM LGBTQ Employee Resource Group where he serves as the Community Outreach Chair. Our Director of Programs Brian Yopp recently sat down with Blake at the Automotive Hall of Fame to talk about his life and career. To watch an excerpt from Blake's interview, click here

French American Heritage Month Profile: Mary-France Oudin of Mahle-Behr USA 
Mary France Oudin
July is French American Heritage Month, and July 24 marks the anniversary of the city of Detroit's founding by a Frenchman named Cadillac in 1701. In light of this, we are sharing this interview by our current MotorCities Research Fellow Louise-Helene Filion with Mary-France Oudin, who is a Senior Program Manager at local auto supplier Mahle-Behr USA in Troy.

To watch Oudin's interview, click here

Exiled to Motown: The Japanese American Experience in Detroit

Detroit Historical Museum Exiled to Motown exhibit CROPPED and RESIZED 

In conjunction with a book and recent exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum, our Brian Yopp sat down with Mika Kennedy and Celeste Goedert to discuss "Exiled to Motown: The History of Japanese Americans in Detroit." Japanese Americans have been hard at work and play in the Detroit area for over 100 years, finding ways to celebrate a distinctly Midwestern Japanese American culture while chasing American dreams. After being forcibly removed from the Pacific coast and imprisoned in the inland West during World War II, some Japanese Americans sought to begin life anew in cities far from home, like Detroit. There was a dark side to these Rustbelt refuges, however: the U.S. government felt that Japanese Americans would pose no threat to American society -- and perhaps even assimilate completely -- if they were scattered across the Midwest in numbers smaller than in the booming Japantowns of Seattle or California. Starting a new life in Detroit was supposed to mean starting life without a Japanese American community, and leaving that culture behind forever.

You can watch the interview here

Hispanic Heritage Month Profile: Mike Huerta of the UAW
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As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, our Brian Yopp recently had a conversation with Mike Huerta, President of UAW Local 602 in Lansing. Huerta began working at the Fisher Body plant in 1997, when he first joined the UAW. Their conversation covers his career at General Motors, his interest in union leadership and the importance of his Mexican heritage.
  
To view the full interview, click here.

German American Heritage Month: Heinz Prechter & the Sunroof
Heinz Prechter Detroit Free Press

October is German American Heritage Month, so here is a feature on Heinz Prechter, a Bavarian-born entrepreneur who made a mark in the automotive industry by bringing the sunroof to America. 

Polish American Heritage Month: Brad Keselowski, NASCAR Champ
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As part of October Polish American Heritage Month, we present the story of Brad Keselowski, a NASCAR champion driver who hails from our National Heritage Area. Currently ranked sixth in the NASCAR Cup standings, Brad Keselowski is enjoying another season of success as a race car driver for Team Penske in the popular number two car. You can read the story here.

Ralph Teetor Overcame Blindness and Invented Cruise Control

Ralph Teetor and cruise control AHF
Ralph Teetor (pictured at right in the photo above with Perfect Circle president William Prossner) was an engineer and inventor who overcame blindness to develop the automotive feature we now know as cruise control, a device that foreshadowed technologies like autonomous vehicles, GPS navigation, hazard automatic braking and lane assist systems. His story is presented here in observance of the International Day for People with Disabilities on December 3.

SWD AHG Msthd 5.7.20

 1 WELCOME TITLE 10.16.20

 

2 Text 10.20.20

  

1 FIRMS SITES Welcome

 

2 COMMUNITY HISTORY Welcome

 

3 LABOR ROOTS Welcome

 

4 WE AUTO KNOW MORE Welcome

 

5 BUILD THE GUIDE Welcome

 

6 MAP Welcome

 

PHOTO CREDITS

Detroit Historical Society
Lincoln Motor Car Company / Ford Local 600 Women’s Auxiliary Workshop

Detroit Public Library, National Automotive History Collection
DeSoto Plant

Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University
Michigan Central Station Passengers / GM Cadillac Sit Down Strike Pickets

SWD AHG FTR June20

Formerly known as MotorCities At Home, we continue our series of programs featuring discussions of interesting automotive history topics. Each program is FREE. 

We're Back! Join us Wednesday, June 26 for an IN-PERSON program at the Pontiac Transportation Museum!

Pontiac Transportation Museum mural

Come see the National Heritage Area's newest attraction!
Doors open at 6 p.m. The program starts at 6:30. 
 
Tickets are $10 and include admission to the Museum, your tour and light refreshments. Reserve your spot by clicking here.
 

Check out our past programs on YouTube at the links below. 

Past sessions:

"Mascots of Motion" with Steve Purdy
Friday, May 15, 2020 at 12 p.m. EDT
This presentation featured classic and collector car hood ornaments.
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube!
MotorCities At Home Steve Purdy RESIZED

"Billy Durant, Founder of General Motors" by Russ Dore
Friday, May 22, 2020 at 12 p.m. EDT
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube!
MotorCities At Home May 22 RESIZED
"Cool Cars: Unique Automobiles of the Detroit Historical Society Collection" by Jeremy Dimick
Friday, May 29, 2020 at 12 p.m. EDT
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube.
MotorCities At Home May 29 RESIZED

"R.E. Olds & the First Auto City" with Michael Rodriguez
Friday, June 5, 2020 at 12 p.m. EDT
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube.MotorCities At Home Word June 5 RESIZED
"Ford Motor Company & the Arsenal of Democracy" with Robert Kreipke
Thursday, July 9, 2020 at 12 p.m. EDT
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube.
MotorCities At Home Word from Our Sponsor July 9

"Rosie the Riveter" with Alison Beatty
Thursday, July 16, 2020 at 12 p.m. EDT
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube.
MotorCities At Home Word from Our Sponsor July 16

Southwest Detroit Auto Heritage Guide Panel
Thursday, July 23, 2020 at 12 p.m. EDT
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube.

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"Famous Firsts: The History of the Packard Proving Grounds"
Thursday, August 27, 2020 at 12 p.m. EDT
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube.
MotorCities At Home Roger Luksik August 27

"Ford's Incredible Letter Cars"
Wednesday, September 30 at 12 p.m. EDT
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube.

MotorCities At Home September 23 RESIZED

"The Gilmore Car Museum: Miles from the Ordinary"
Wednesday, September 30 at 12 p.m. EDT
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube.
MotorCities At Home September 30 RESIZED

"The Fort Street Bridge Interpretive Park: The What and The Why"
Wednesday, January 27, 2021 at 12 p.m. EST
Click to watch this panel discussion on YouTube.
Fort Street Bridge Park entry wall

"A History of Diversity at Ford Motor Company"
Wednesday, February 24, 2021 at 12 p.m.
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube.
MotorCities At Home February 24 2021 RESIZED

"Power Under Her Foot: Women Enthusiasts of American Muscle Cars"
Wednesday, March 24, 2021 at 12 p.m.
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube.

MotorCities At Home Word from Our Sponsor March 24 2021

"A New Beginning at Ford House"
Wednesday, April 28, 2021 at 12 p.m.
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube.

MotorCities At Home A Word from Our Sponsor April 28 2021

"A Stroll Through Stahl's Automotive Collection"
Wednesday, June 23, 2021 at 12 p.m.
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube.

MotorCities At Home A Word from Our Sponsor June 23 2021 RESIZED

"The Michigan Firehouse Museum is Back"
Wednesday, August 25, 2021 at 12 p.m.
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube.
MotorCities At Home A Word from Our Sponsor August 25 2021
"The Dodge Brothers: The Men Behind the Myth"
Wednesday, October 27, 2021 at 12 p.m.
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube. 
MotorCities At Home A Word from Our Sponsor October 27 2021

"Meet the Team Behind Making Tracks"
Wednesday, February 23, 2022 at 12 p.m.
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube. 

Making Tracks Mast Head 900 pixel width updated Feb 2011

"The Importance of Role Models for Women in the Auto Industry" Panel
Wednesday, March 23, 2022 at 12 p.m. 
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube. 
March 2022 MCAH panel horizontal photos

"Detroit's Industrial Architect: Albert Kahn" with John Gallagher
Wednesday, May 25, 2022 at 12 p.m.

Click to watch this presentation on YouTube.  
MotorCities At Home May 25 2022

"Sloan Museum of Discovery: An Exclusive Sneak Preview" with Todd Slisher
Wednesday, June 22, 2022 at 12 p.m.
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube.

MotorCities At Home A Word from Our Sponsor June 22 2022

"Pontiac's Transportation Legacy" with Terry Connolly
Wednesday, October 26, 2022 at 12 p.m.
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube.
MotorCities On The Road A Word from Our Sponsor October 26 2022

"Walter Chrysler: His Company and His Life" with Russ Dore
Wednesday, November 16, 2022 at 12 p.m.
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube.

MotorCities On The Road A Word from Our Sponsor November 16 2022

 "Achievement: African Americans' Accomplishments and Contributions in Automotive" with Sarah Cook
Wednesday, February 22, 2023 at 12 p.m.
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube.

MotorCities On The Road A Word from Our Sponsor February 22 2023

"Women in Automotive Design" with Carolyn Peters
Wednesday, March 22, 2023 at 12 p.m.
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube.

MotorCities On The Road A Word from Our Sponsor March 22 2023

"Disability Inclusion in the Automotive Industry" Panel Discussion at Services To Enhance Potential
Wednesday, May 24, 2023 at 12 p.m.
Click to watch this presentation on YouTube. 


Panel photo May 2023