What Black History Month Means to Us and How Toyota Empowers Diverse Voices

Sponsored by Toyota North America

Nicole J. Fortune and Jovonda Williams. Photos courtesy of Toyota North America.

Nicole J. Fortune and Jovonda Williams. Photos courtesy of Toyota North America.

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What does Black History Month mean to you? For Jovonda Williams, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky (TMMK) Senior Engineer Quality Control, the answer to this question comes down to acknowledgement and awareness. “Black History Month acknowledges the contributions of African Americans and brings awareness to the impact they have made on the past and present,” she explains. 

Her colleague Nicole J. Fortune, a Customer Care National Manager for Toyota/Lexus Financial Services, adds that Black History Month “is a remembrance and appreciation of the amazing contributions of my heroes that have paved the way for our Civil Rights (such as Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks), created important inventions (such as the mailbox by Phillip Downing, the traffic light by Garrett Morgan, and the clothes dryer by George T. Sampson), excelled in business (such as Booker T. Washington, Reginal F. Lewis, and John H. Johnson), and much more.”

“It is during this month that I am reminded of the greatness of my culture and my duty to continue the legacy of those who paved the way for my success,” Fortune tells us. “It also serves as a reminder that my life is not my own, but to be shared in service to others.”

Both Fortune and Williams devote themselves to promoting inclusivity and empowering African American talent through Black History Month and beyond! As part of this, they are members of Toyota Motor North America’s African American Collaborative (AAC) Business Partnering Group — which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Here, Fortune and Williams share more about this important group and why they believe Toyota is a supportive place for employees from diverse backgrounds.

To start, can you tell us about the African American Collaborative (AAC) Business Partnering Group.

Fortune: The legacy of the African American Collaborative started when team members from Toyota Motor North America (TMNA) and Toyota Motor Sales (TMS) met on an informal basis to share personal and professional experiences. From there, the bylaws were formed and in 2002 the AAC was formally recognized as a BPG within Toyota. With a focus on recruitment, development, and retention of African American team members, the AAC has grown to 13 active chapters. Each chapter does an amazing job of engaging other team members and allies for development and educational activities.  

Williams: Our mission is to continuously recruit, develop, and retain African American talent, while also bridging the gap between African American communities and the corporation through community outreach.

Our vision is to ensure that African American team members are represented and recognized at all levels of the company and serve as key contributors to the success of Toyota.

Our goals are to:

  1. Ensure the continued alignment to the AAC Mission and Vision.

  2. Enhance development activities (and ensure that AAC leaders, AAC members, and team members can benefit from the activities).

  3. Engage local communities through outreach activities that build relationships and affinity with the Toyota brand.

  4. Encourage growth in participation for AAC membership events and relevant company-wide events through effective planning and communication.

How did you first get involved with the AAC BPG? 

Fortune: I had the privilege of attending one of the AAC Symposiums and was impressed by their focus on development and the amount of support they receive from various allies. In fact, I’ve found that every AAC event I have attended is development-focused, thought provoking, and leaves me with valuable takeaways that I am able to use both professionally and in my personal life. AAC represents excellence to me, and it shows in everything the business partnering group does. I am proud to currently serve as the Vice-Chair of the AAC’s North American Advisory Council.

Williams: When I started at TMMK, the AAC was planning its annual quiz bowl and needed support with implementation. One of my mentors was on the board and asked if I was interested in supporting—of course I said yes! During a reflection meeting after the event, I was offering so many suggestions, AAC leadership started inviting me to board meetings and assigning me tasks. Now, I serve as the chair for the AAC’s North American Advisory Council and have been deeply involved with the business partnering group ever since.

What has the AAC BPG accomplished that you’re most proud of? 

Fortune: What started as a casual meet up between team members twenty years ago has become a 1700-member strong business partnering group. What an amazing accomplishment! With AAC’s track record, this BPG has become one of the most recognized groups at Toyota. The founding members are my Black History Month heroes. To have the wisdom and determination to create such an amazing legacy should be remembered and celebrated annually.  

Williams: I am most proud of the AAC Symposium and Virtual Leadership Conference that are planned and executed annually by AAC members. These events help drive awareness to the BPG and focus on the development of our members. 

Finally, why do you believe Toyota is a particularly supportive place for employees from diverse backgrounds?

Fortune: Toyota understands that with diverse representation of team members comes perspectives that help us think outside of the box when solving problems. It is also important that the diversity of our team represents and reflects the wants and needs of our customers. Having Business Partnering Groups, Social Justice Action Committees, programs like Women In Leadership, and senior leaders who are actively sponsoring team members of diverse backgrounds will not only help expose them to higher levels within the organization but also foster a sense of appreciation for their contributions no matter their background. 

I love working for Toyota because I am accepted for who I am and recognized for what I deliver for this organization. I’m proud to see so many People of Color and women being promoted through the corporate ranks. I’m also proud when I see people having the time of their lives in vehicles that were created by the hands of our Toyota team members. Go Toyota!

Williams: One of Toyota’s foundational principles is Respect for People, and I see that reflected in everything we do. Toyota encourages team member participation in BPGs by allotting paid time for planning and execution, providing an annual budget allowance, and supporting development opportunities based on the affinity. Representation of employees from diverse backgrounds is visible at all levels of the company and it makes me incredibly proud to be a part of Toyota! 

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