Throughout the days and nights of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, there is every type of event under the near-absent January sun. However, prior to 2010, the particular event Cheryl Parks Ajamu was searching for did not exist. So Ajamu went on to create and style the Annual Multicultural Media Luncheon, an automotive Academy Awards of sort, celebrating the best of both human resources and diversity within the advertising and auto industries.
Tickets for this year's event, on Thursday at the stately Westin Book Cadillac Detroit Hotel, have been sold out for weeks. Exactly how did this event go — like a Roush Stage III Mustang or a Dodge Hellcat — from 0-60 mpg in such a short timespan?
The birth of Ajamu's brainchild, the Multicultural Media Luncheon, was both humble and grand. Humble, in that there was no budget, no press, no guest list, no high profile sponsor, and not many in attendance; grand, because she managed to snag basketball legend Earvin 'Magic' Johnson as keynote speaker for the inaugural event in 2011.
Taking advantage of a thin connection to Johnson from her time as an advertising sales manager for Black Entertainment Television, Ajamu flew to California to make an appearance in his Los Angeles office. Magic snuck in during her pitch and afterward told her he loved the concept and would be the event's speaker. He then invited Ajamu and her husband to be his guests at that night's Lakers game. Ajamu reluctantly declined, much to the dismay of her husband. They had a plane to catch. At the time, they didn't know that the missed opportunity would be restored only a few weeks later.
With little time for publicity, only 100 tickets were sold that first year, but in the 'oh ye of little faith' department, Johnson assured Ajamu "it's OK because it's going to be a great show."
The theme that has carried throughout all five years of the Multicultural Media Awards luncheon has been one of reinventing and building your brand toward relevance through diversified markets. Magic’s topic set the tone: "Building Brands for Urban Markets." At one point in his talk, Johnson asked the audience to take out their business cards and turn them in. Sensing some reluctance, he cajoled, "What, no one wants my personal tickets for an L.A. Lakers game as door prizes?" Quickly, cards appeared and students representing various organizations, charities, and culinary schools scrambled around the ballroom, picking them up for the drawing. (Ironically, one set of tickets went to the young man who had introduced Johnson. Later, Johnson announced he would fly this student and a guest, as well as the Ajamus, to L.A. to join him in his personal suite for a Lakers game. Treated royally by Johnson, that 14-year-old boy is now an engineering student at MSU and credits that moment in time as a turning point in his life.)
Since then, the Multicultural Media Awards Luncheon has steadily grown. Sold out weeks ago, this year's "Reinventing Your Brand," will be presented by Keith Clinkscales, CEO of Revolt Media and TV, a new music network from Sean Combs.
Area corporations and businesses have embraced this luncheon as a link to minority audiences and through the various media awards, an opportunity to showcase their own achievements. Major sponsors include Toyota, KIA, Nissan, Chrysler, Fifth Third Bank, Comerica, Grace Bay Resort, IHS Automotive, and Delta, with several local businesses offering their support as well. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Haitian charity Project Medishare as well as Orchards Children's Services, a foster care and adoption agency in Southfield.
Looking forward to a successful 2015 program, Ajamu is already eyeing what's next: similar events in another major U.S. city, and also in China and Germany. Her wish list of future keynote speakers includes Jay-Z, Oprah, Mark Zuckerberg, and Mark Cuban. She also insists it is not too early to submit a reservation or sponsorship for the 2016 Multicultural Media Awards Luncheon because, guaranteed, there will be a dynamic speaker, maximum exposure, entertaining visuals, and a plethora of corporate stars who can mix and mingle in a way that wasn't possible only five short years ago.
For more information about the luncheon, visit ajamugroup.com or call 248-223-0904.
Janina Parrott Jacobs is an international golf and travel writer/editor/speaker; health and fitness writer for St. John Providence Health System; and owner of Capers Steakhouse and catering division in Detroit.