By Clint Confehr

FRANKLIN, TN — Established in response to Los Angeles riots against acquittal of policemen charged with beating Rodney King, the Nissan Foundation is announcing grants in June to honor cultural diversity.

“The Nissan Foundation is committed to enriching people’s lives … where Nissan operates,” Nissan Foundation Executive Director Vicki Smith says. “The foundation supports educational programs that celebrate and foster greater appreciation for the value that exists in a positive, diverse community.”

The 1992 LA riots were from April 29 – May 4 when 55 people died, 2,000 were injured and 11,000 were arrested. Property damage estimates exceeded $1 billion. Within eight months, Nissan executives found ways to celebrate cultural diversity, promote respect for others, generate alternative ways of thinking, strengthen self-awareness, and enrich communities. The Nissan Foundation is their vehicle.

Last June, Nissan gave $25,000 for Nashville police officers’ Civil Rights training. Corporate Communications Manager Darla Turner said the grant went through Nashville’s Public Library Foundation.

National Newspaper Publishers Association President Ben Chavis recently visited Nissan’s North American headquarters, meeting with corporate and foundation leaders, and visiting Nashville’s main library. Its Civil Rights and Civil Society program is possible because of a Nissan Foundation grant to the library’s foundation.

“I was very impressed with the substance and the depth of the Civil Rights exhibit,” Chavis said of the library’s Civil Rights Room. NNPA wants to “highlight news in our community that serves as a source of inspiration.”

A 1957 photo of Nashville starting desegregation in elementary schools impressed Chavis, one of the Wilmington 10. The United Church of Christ’s Commission on Racial Justice sent the young Rev. Chavis to Wilmington, N.C., to advise black students protesting abrupt integration, uprooting them from their respected high school and excluding them from extra-curricular activities. The Wilmington 10 were falsely convicted and incarcerated for nearly a decade after a riot there in 1971. Amnesty International declared them political prisoners. Forty years later, outgoing Gov. Beverly Perdue declared them innocent of firebombing charges “tainted by naked racism,” leveled as Chavis protested school desegregation that disregarded African Americans’ community-supported school traditions.

“Most jurisdictions started with high school, but Nashville made the decision to do it with elementary schools,” Chavis said. “It was three years after the [Supreme Court’s] Brown decision in 1954. Nashville was one of the first school districts to start by desegregating elementary schools…

“What I felt at the … library was a reaffirmation of the importance of the black press in America,” Chavis said.

Building community by valuing cultural diversity is a mission of Nissan’s foundation. Chavis sees growing youth activism similar to the early days of the Civil Rights movement.

“Our young people today need guidance and encouragement rather than scolding fingers pointed at them,” he said.

Nissan’s Foundation supports educational programs promoting greater appreciation and understanding of America’s diverse culture, the company says. Nissan values diversity as 38 percent of its U.S. customers are ethnically diverse, the highest among major U.S. automakers.

The foundation annually awards one-year grants. They generally range from $10,000-$50,000. Since 1992, Nissan has donated $9.3 million to over 100 nonprofits near its plants and offices at Franklin, Smyrna, Decherd, Atlanta, Central Mississippi, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit, New York City and Southern California.

Chavis met Dec. 19 with Smith, Turner and Nissan Diversity Director Jeffrey Webster.

Last year’s grant recipients in Tennessee included a children’s museum in Murfreesboro, and in Nashville, WNPT TV, Frist Center, a multicultural arts center, a group helping at-risk teenagers, a statewide, immigrant and refugee-led collaboration for immigrants, and Nashville’s Public Library Foundation.

Clint Confehr

Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical...