Toyota USA: Giving Back to the Community

Toyota (Fleet of 2017 Toyotas, ready to take us on our Black History Month Tour)


The phrase ‘Giving Back’ is often bandied about by many who want to exclaim their commitment to one cause or another, and it frequently implies philanthropy in some form. For the Japanese brand Toyota, it’s part of their commitment to diversity.

If you look at research conducted by IHS Markit, Toyota and their luxury brand Lexus are favorites among African, Hispanic, Asian and Native American consumers. This fact was awarded when Toyota was honored for their diversity efforts at the Annual Diversity Volume Leadership Awards (DVL) at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The DVL Awards are presented by the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers and IHS Markit. Instead of taking this enormous cultural brand equity for granted, Toyota has demonstrated its desire to become an even more integral part of the colorful fabric of America.

For Black History Month 2017, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, showed a small group of journalists, through a four-day tour of historic African American sites that they do indeed give back to multicultural communities through charitable donations and a strong sense of community.

The tour started in New York State, where we drove a fleet of 2017 Toyota sedans and SUVs to Villa Lewaro in Irvington, New York, the estate of the first American female and African American female millionaire, Madame C.J. Walker. We received a guided tour from Senior Field Officer Brent Leggs, with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Leggs shared the rich history of the woman and the estate she built.


(Toyota Avalon meets Villa Lewaro)


Madame Walker was renowned for her keen entrepreneurial sense, having developed haircare products for black women.

The name Villa Lewaro was coined by using the first two letters in the first, middle and last names of her daughter, Leila Walker Robinson, who later changed her name to A’Lelia Walker. The estate was designed and built by black architect Vertner Tandy.


(Grand Foyer – Villa Lewaro)


Walker used the 34 room mansion as a meeting place to discuss race relations. Upon her death, just about a year after moving in, the estate was bequeathed to her daughter A’Lelia Walker, who owned the home until her death in 1931. After her death, Villa Lewaro was bequeathed to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The NAACP sold the home the same day it took ownership, and the proceeds from the sale of Villa Lewaro were a financial savior to the NAACP, which at the time was on the verge of bankruptcy. In 1993, Villa Lewaro was sold to Harold Doley, former U.S. Ambassador to the Ivory Coast and owner of the oldest African American-owned investment-banking firm, Doley Securities L.L.C. The house became a National Historic Landmark in 1976, and Toyota has supported the restoration of the home through generous donations to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Ambassador Doley and his wife Helena painstakingly restored Villa Lewaro over a 20-year period.

From the Walker Estate, I drove the 2017 Toyota Avalon to Harlem in Manhattan, New York. The Avalon is the flagship sedan for Toyota, and Harlem was the flagship community for black writers, singers, musicians, athletes, poets and religious and community leaders in the early to late 1900s. It was in Harlem that we took a walking tour of The Harlem Renaissance, conducted by Neil Shoemaker, who refers to himself as ‘Mr. Harlem.’ Shoemaker discussed significant figures and places in Harlem’s history, such as Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, the Apollo Theater, the Cotton Club, the Audubon Theater, Joe Frazier’s Gym, and many more. Harlem’s history is well documented, and it felt like we had gone back to those glorious days of its cultural peak during the walking tour. We capped off the Harlem tour with a night of dining and jazz at legendary Minton’s Jazz and Supper Club.


(Malcolm Shabazz Multi-Purpose Cultural Center. Harlem Mosque where Malcolm X inspired many)


The next morning, I drove a 2017 Toyota Highlander from New York to Philadelphia to learn about more black history. The Toyota Highlander is a superb SUV, capable of toting large families and their gear safely and comfortably. I was impressed with the more than 30 highway mpg achieved during the two-hour drive to ‘Philly.’

Our first stop in Philadelphia was the Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, located just a few blocks from Independence Hall. At the Church, Docent Peggy McGraw recalled the rich history of Mother A.M.E. Bethel, and the impact it has had on African American lives for hundreds of years.


(Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church)


Mother Bethel A.M.E Church was founded in 1794 by Bishop Richard Allen, born a slave in 1760. After buying his freedom, Allen began preaching and that led to the construction of three churches prior to the construction of the current sanctuary dedicated in October 1890. Mother Bethel continues to serve as an active participant in the spiritual, social, and civic causes germane to African Americans and people of color. Mother Bethel A.M.E. is the oldest continuously black-owned property in the United States.


(Historic Mother Bethel A.M.E. Sanctuary)


Our next stop on our Black History Month tour was the Belmont Mansion in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Now on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, the Belmont Mansion was a stop on the ‘Underground Railroad,’ which was neither a railroad or underground, but a series of trails and safe houses used by ‘Conductors’ to guide scores of slaves from the south to free states north and even into Canada. Harriet Tubman was the most famous Conductor to have stopped at the Belmont Mansion as she guided her people to freedom.


(Underground Railroad Museum at Belmont Mansion)


In June 2007, the Underground Railroad Museum was opened at the historic mansion. Displays include numerous historical artifacts and documents, including an emotion-inducing slave Bill of Sale.


(Slave Bill of Sale – Underground Railroad Museum)


After a great cheesesteak lunch in South Philly, I took the wheel of a 2017 Toyota Camry for the final legs of our powerful, educational journey. The 2017 Camry is one of Toyota’s best-selling cars for good reason—it does everything well and was the perfect vehicle for travel to our last stop: The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C.

Before we visited the NMAAHC, we were present as Toyota Motor Sales, USA, presented a check for $10,000 to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, an organization dedicated to preserving our Nation’s historic treasures, like Villa Lewaro.


(Toyota donates to National Trust for Historic Preservation)


There is so much to say about my experience at the NMAAHC, it would take several more stories to complete. You start your journey there by descending by elevator into displays about the early days of the slave trade. As you descend, lights dim and you see a timeline on the walls denoting key years in the journey from slavery to freedom.


(Smithsonian NMAAHC)


Over many thousands of displays, documents, photographs, video and movie presentations; and actual artifacts; the story of African Americans is told in a truly superb way. The remains from slave ships, including wood from a sunken ship and the recovered shackles used to bind adults and babies; an original, unrestored slave cabin; a Southern Railways rail car; an airplane flown by Tuskegee Airmen; a reproduction of a lunch counter where you can interactively feel what it was like not to be served because of your color; and so much more.


(Slave shackles recovered from wreck of slave ship Sao Jose)


There are displays on war, politics, culture, music, sports, and all facets of black history. It’s truly a heart wrenching, yet remarkable experience designed to educate and enlighten.


(Slave Cabin at NMAAHC)


Our trip with Toyota was an experience of a lifetime. It should be noted that Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. donated more than $3 million to the NMAAHC, another prime example of how Toyota gives back to the community. Thank you, Toyota.


Download National Museum of African American History and Culture App

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Can’t get tickets yet to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture? Be patient, get on the waiting list, and meanwhile, download the museum’s new app.

The NMAAHC Mobile Stories app, developed by the Smithsonian Institution, offers a “story-driven” mobile experience designed to enhance a museum visit or to enjoy off-site.

The museum exhibits feature interactive stories that integrate with the app. The stories are grouped into categories including “Exhibition,” “Multimedia,” and “Families with Children” stories.

Tapping on any story takes you to the museum’s exhibit focusing on that story and the app also lists the exhibit’s location in the museum. The app displays artifacts within the exhibit while the story is displayed as both text and as a sound clip. You can share via social media any of the information in the app.

The app’s content includes video such as one on Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman to be elected to Congress (and the first women to ever run for the Democratic Party presidential nomination). Users can create their own selfie political poster from photos of Chisholm’s and others’ political posters.

NMAAHC Mobile Stories app is multilingual and supports English, French, and Spanish.

It displays daily and upcoming museum events. There is also a museum map; information about its restaurant; and the museum shop.

The NMAAHC was designed to be one of the most technologically advanced museums in the world.

Travis McPhail, a senior software designer and tech lead at Google, headed up a team of designers and engineers, all from the Black Googler Network, to create an interactive 3-D exhibit. Google also donated $1 million to the museum.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture Mobile Stories app is available on the App Store and Google Play.

3 Fundraising Lessons From the Smithsonian African-American Museum

african american museumafrican american museum Image: Lonnie Major

I remember the unseasonably, mild February morning when more than 600 of the most prominent, powerful business and political luminaries – including President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama – gathered in Washington, DC to participate in history: The groundbreaking of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Now, nearly a half decade later, the day has arrived when the doors of the largest African American museum in the US will open to the world. Moreover, it represents one of the greatest philanthropic efforts driven by African Americans. It’s five-star advisory council included former Citigroup Chairman Richard D. Parsons, American Express CEO Kenneth I. Chenault, media mogul Oprah Winfrey, billionaire dealmaker Robert L. Johnson, and former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

At the time of the groundbreaking, founding director Lonnie G. Bunch III said that the importance of the vision was recognizing and honoring African American history and culture and demonstrate “the need to make better all who visit the National Museum, by using African American culture as a lens to more clearly understand what it means to be an American.”

What I also found impressive about Bunch was the fact that as he uncovered artifacts representing the “wide arc of history, “ including slavery, Reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Migration, the Civil Rights Movement and other eras, the noted scholar and historian became an amazingly adept fundraiser of.$250 million in donations from corporations, organizations and individuals.

As I wrote at the time –and still believe – the campaign serves as a powerful model for strategic philanthropic fundraising – whether your organization is mammoth or miniscule.

Assemble A Credible Board of Advisors

After civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis fought more than 12 years to secure authorization, President George W. Bush signed legislation in 2003 to establish the 19th museum within the Smithsonian complex. Congress committed $250 million over 10 years, so Bunch must make regular trips to Capitol Hill to sway legislators to provide funding for the institution’s annual budget. The NMAAHC team has had to raise the other $250 million through private donations.

Bunch told me that he was not guided by “a lot of management theory, but by all our ancestors” and that led to his clarity of intent and working with a board designed for fundraising success.

In June 2005, Bunch had to contend with an intimidating meeting at NMAAHC, a month before he officially took the helm. “I walk into my first board meeting. I’m looking for my name, and I am between Oprah Winfrey and Dick Parsons,’” he reflects.

Bunch knew that members of this advisory council had vast strategic acumen, enviable global contacts and, most important, a burning desire to erect a monument to black achievement. Sixteen of the 24-member advisory council were African American, many among the NMAAHC’s largest donors. For example, the Oprah Winfrey Foundation has contributed $10 million or more and Bob Johnson has given $5 million or more. Chenault’s American Express has given $5 million and Allan Golston, president of U.S. Programs for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, helped guide the organizations’ investments of $10 million.

Assembling such a group of respected corporate and civic leaders offers a vital lesson for those on the local level. Bunch said his council gave the museum instant credibility. “You had to show that the major players cared about this, and because there would have to be so much private fundraising, which is more than we’ve traditionally done at the Smithsonian, the decision was to make sure the board had a strong corporate leadership,” Bunch said at the time, citing that the group weighed in on every strategic decision involving the museum’s development and management.

Communicate Your Vision With Clarity And Passion

Bunch found that the NMAAHC’s leash was shorter than that of most nonprofits because the museum operates under government oversight as part of the Smithsonian complex. The team had a playbook, a set of principles and policies that had been developed by the founding presidential commission. It was up to Bunch to call the plays, though. “I learned you’ve got to have confidence in your vision, but be smart enough to let other people help shape it,” he said.

One of Bunch’s strengths is his ability to sell the mission, whether conferring with congressmen on the Hill, talking to CEOs in the executive suite, or chatting up a group of senior citizens at a community center. Observers said he has a talent for connecting with people on the emotional level, and that’s what makes people write checks. He was also successful in building partnerships with local museums and historical societies.

Strategically Target Prospective Donors

NMAAHC approached fundraising from a standpoint of “abundance, not scarcity,” said one staffer, and did not waste time on those who may suffer from “sticker shock.” The group also targeted five key metros: New York, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, and Los Angeles, “philanthropic cities” that are among the nation’s largest, headquarters for large corporations and comprised of diverse populations that embrace multicultural causes.

The team wanted as many African Americans as possible to play a role in the museum’s development so the campaign for dollars was not just focused on members of the 1%. NMAAHC has developed a grassroots effort as well, pitching charter memberships for as little as $25. In fact, the group has received gifts of $5 from senior citizens, and about $600 in coins from the Brooklyn Heights Montessori School. And added social media outreach to the mix. The lesson; Gaining small contributions is just as important as large corporate donations in reaching your fundraising goal.