As a young man growing up in the turbulent 1960s, James Farmer remembers selling Ebony and Jet magazines and Cleveland’s Call and Post newspaper on the streets of his hometown.
Farmer said that he hawked the mainstream newspapers, too, but he formed a deeper connection with the stories and people featured in the Black magazines and newspapers that he sold.
“Everybody read the Black Press,” Farmer said. “We grew up with it.”
Fifty years later, following an award-winning career in the automotive industry that included leadership positions at General Motors (GM), an appointment to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (under President George W. Bush) and world travel as a cultural ambassador, Farmer remains one of the strongest advocates for the Black Press in corporate America today.
The Black Press recently honored Farmer for his career-long commitment to diversity and inclusion in the automotive industry.
The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), a trade group that represents over 200 Black newspapers and Black-owned media companies in the United States, presented Farmer with the 2018 Torch Award for his dedicated service and long-standing support of the Black Press.
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., the president and CEO of the NNPA called Farmer “a giant in the automotive industry” as the trade group honored him during Black Press Week in Washington, D.C.
“Over the last 30 years, the NNPA has had no greater friend than James Farmer,” Dr. Chavis said. “The name ‘James Farmer’ will always live in the hearts, the minds and the spirits of every publisher of a Black-owned newspaper.”
During, the Torch Awards dinner, Farmer humbly thanked the group, which included some publishers that he’d known for more than 30 years.
Farmer said that when you’re blessed, things are expected.
“It makes me feel good that, they appreciate what I’ve done, while I’m clothed and in my right mind,” Farmer joked, later. “It’s quite an honor.”
The 2018 Torch Award was not the first honor that the NNPA bestowed upon the career auto executive.
The NNPA awarded Farmer with the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002 for his outstanding support of the Black Press. In 2014, the NNPA presented Farmer with the Legacy of Excellence Award, according to his biography.
Farmer earned a bachelor’s of science degree in marketing from Central State University, Wilberforce, Ohio in 1967 and after nearly 10 years in advertising, sales and marketing at the Airtemp division at the Chrysler Corporation, he began his career with General Motors at the former Delco Products Division in Dayton, Ohio, in 1976, according to his biography. Farmer’s affinity for the Black Press grew stronger as his status at GM grew.
Farmer held a number of key leadership positions at GM including: Group Director Communications for GM’s Small Car Group in 1994; Group Director of Public Relations and Communications, GM North American Sales, Service and Marketing in 1998; General Director Marketing and Constituency Communications with GM’s Worldwide Communications Group in 1999; and Vice President of Merchandising, Advertising and Communications at GMAC until his retirement in 2004.
Even though, Farmer retired as a vice president of GMAC in 2004, he remained committed to fostering positive business relationships between the Black Press and the auto industry.
“I’ve always been in a fortunate position to have the ear of leadership in the auto industry,” Farmer said. “Since, I can be a voice, I’m here to share my connections, resources and wisdom after almost 51 years.”
Farmer continues to use that access to advocate for the Black Press.
Farmer said that the Black Press has tremendous value, because of their reach in the Black community and their value as business owners with the potential to touch every industry.
Farmer continued: “The NNPA has 200 newspapers reaching [20 million] people every week. The only group that reaches more [people] than that is the Black church.”
Although he appreciates the accolades, Farmer said that the long-lasting friendships he’s formed during his career and the business opportunities he’s created within the auto industry for Black publishers, make his work behind the scenes worth it.
“I do what I do, because of my passion, when I see publishers get those media buys — that’s my reward,” Farmer said.
Farmer continued: “It’s not about the revenue, it’s not about the brand advertising. It’s about my commitment to GM — to be fair and technical — and my commitment to the NNPA — to be strategic and to show that there’ll be a return on investment [for the company].”