DETROIT – Black men in leadership in Fortune 500 companies is almost non-existent.
Many would say this is due largely in part to our country’s history of racial inequities.
Now, some local leaders are working to change that, teaching the next generation what it takes to join the ranks.
“I was raised by a single parent,” said high school student Jacob Ribbron. “My mother is Cynthia Ribbron who passed last year due to COVID.”
Ribbron, 16, and his mother were very close. The River Rouge High School junior is now living life without his biggest supporter.
“It’s had a real deep emotional effect on me,” he said. “It’s like a person that you always expect to be there for you and like been there my whole life. I never went a day without seeing my mom so to like wake up and not have her there it’s crazy. I still can’t wrap my head around it.”
He lost her at a time in his life when he needed her the most -- as he looks towards the future and what he wants to do with his life.
“I want to go to college,” he said. “I want to go to Oakland, currently. I want to start a business when I get older.”
Kenneth Matthies has been with the Auto Club Group now for 16 years.
“(I’m) Kenneth Matthies. My title is the Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer for the Auto Club Group.”
He’s often times the only Black man in the board room. In fact, Black men in leadership roles in general is the minority in the workforce.
Through the Michigan Diversity Council and events like the Black Men In Leadership Summit, young men like Ribbron are being mentored to become the next Kenneth Matthies and beyond.
“A bright young man and he has a bright future ahead of him,” said Jarrett Waddy, Director of DEI Operations at Auto Club Group.
Waddy is Ribbron’s mentor. He too grew up in River Rouge and encourages Ribbron to chase after his dreams.
“I always encourage individuals to look within first to understand who you are,” said Waddy. “And when you identify those strengths and when you see those gifts and when you see those talents and you continue to develop those skills take advantage of those opportunities.”
Waddy practices what he preaches. He’s a member of the Michigan Diversity Council where he met Kenneth Matthies. Matthies became his mentor, later presenting him with the opportunity to join the Auto Club Group.
“Jarrett and I have a great relationship as a mentee mentor and as a leader and as an employee,” said Matthies. “We often talk not only about the aspects of the business elements but we talk about life in general, the challenges that we are approached with as Black, African-American leaders in society so I’m able to share my experiences.”
And in turn, Waddy is sharing his experiences with Ribbron.
“To whom much is given, much is required,” said Ribbron. “With that access and that opportunity that’s been presented to me, it’s important for me to carry that torch for the next generation.”
“What’s next for you?” asked Local 4′s Evrod Cassimy.
“Next for me? Continued growth,” said Waddy. “I do aspire to move towards a doctoral degree.”
“I’m working on applying for colleges,” said Ribbron. “I’m trying to get accepted in my junior year not waiting till the last moment.”
And even though she won’t be here to see his success, with help from his mentors, Ribbron hopes to be the next Black man in leadership.
“I’m just trying to do everything that she wanted me to do,” he said.
And you too can change the narrative and break barriers and be anything you want to be. Mentorship is key and the Michigan Diversity Council is a great place to start.
Click here to learn more about the Michigan Diversity Council.