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Toyota-Urban League Project Continues Paying Dividends a Decade After LA Riots - 2003-06-27

A decade ago, Los Angeles, California, was shaken by urban riots. In the wake of the unrest, the automaker Toyota joined forces with the Los Angeles Urban League, a long-standing civil rights and civic organization, to create a program that is still paying human dividends.

As this report is being prepared, the Los Angeles Urban League Automotive Training Center (ATC) is about to graduate another class of students ready to begin careers as technicians in the auto industry.

John Mack, President of the Los Angeles Urban League, looks back at the beginnings of the ATC, saying "out of the ashes of the unrest of 1992, Toyota approached me and the Los Angeles Urban League wanting to demonstrate that they were a good corporate citizen, but more importantly they wanted to be a part of the solution."

It's a program based on mutual needs and Irv Miller, Group Vice President for Corporate Communications at Toyota Motor Sales USA agrees it's a classic "win-win" situation. "The community benefits with an educational training program and the automotive industry benefits by having technicians and basic entry-level individuals ready to come into the industry," he says.

Mr. Miller describes a bit about who gets into the training center and what the students might learn. "They do have to pass basic skills. There's a basic math level and reading skills that are required. They do need to have a valid driver's license. There's no fee for the education and the training," he says. "They can take a number of different courses, ranging from brakes to air conditioning to basic technical skills."

Graduates are able to move right into jobs at area auto dealerships. And many move up as they gain experience. The center maintains a 70 percent job placement rate.

The Urban League's John Mack remembers, in the wake of the riots, many companies promised help for the shattered South Central community. But, he says, "frankly, after the (TV) cameras left, after the publicity subsided, a number of those who stood up and made promises and pledges walked away."

But Mr. Mack says Toyota was not one of them. "I commend Toyota. I cannot say enough about the outstanding commitment of Toyota from the very top. They made an outstanding and, in many ways, unprecedented financial commitment," he says.

Toyota's Irv Miller sounds almost like a proud parent as he talks about the latest class at the center. "We will have our tenth anniversary graduation. And we should graduate our 1,163rd student.

And the Urban League's John Mack expresses pride, too, in the "marriage" of his organization and the Japanese automaker. "When you think about private sector, community-based organization partnerships, we feel that it has to rank very high as one of the very best in this country," he says.

Toyota is so happy with the results of this partnership, they are preparing to set up a similar center here in the Washington, DC area.