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GM CEO Mary Barra to meet with Black media group that charged automaker with 'racism'

“Mary Barra has the opportunity to be on the right side of history,” one Black media executive said.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra will meet Thursday with a group of executives from Black-owned media outlets, the automaker said Wednesday. The meeting comes after the group published full-page ads on Sunday and again on Wednesday accusing GM of "systemic racism."

The adverts, which ran in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Michigan Chronicle and the Detroit Free Press, criticized the automaker for not spending more on Black-owned media and slammed Barra for delegating their repeated requests for a direct meeting to her head of marketing.

Signatories of the ad include Weather Channel owner Byron Allen; the rapper, actor and media mogul Ice Cube; and Junior Bridgeman, the owner of Ebony Media.

One day after the first ad ran, the group held a brief video conference call with GM’s chief marketing officer, Deborah Wahl, GM spokesperson Pat Morrissey confirmed. That meeting will be followed up by an hour-long web discussion on Thursday.

The ads asserted that GM only spends 0.5 percent of its ad budget on Black-owned media properties, while African-Americans make up about 14 percent of the U.S. population. And it said if Barra wouldn't meet with them, she should resign.

Allen said the group is looking for GM to sign a $200 million-a-year deal for all Black media, growing annually by 5 percent over the next 10 years.

“Mary Barra has the opportunity to be on the right side of history,” Allen told NBC News. He declined to say what the executives might do if GM does not offer an acceptable deal.

Allen acknowledged that, by calling out America’s largest automaker, the group hopes to subsequently leverage any agreement to reach deals elsewhere.

“Every corporation in America will be held accountable if they don’t do business with Black media in a respectable way."

“Every corporation in America will be held accountable if they don’t do business with Black media in a respectable way,” he said.

Morrissey said GM already spends “significantly” more than 0.5 percent with Black-owned media.

"With respect specifically to Black-owned media we increased our spend by 100 percent from 2020 to 2021, and we plan to grow from there. We will continue our efforts," he said. "We are disappointed that Mr. Allen and his fellow signatories resorted to additional paid media advertising to advance a narrative of factual inaccuracies and character assault against our CEO, Mary Barra."

"It is particularly perplexing given that the paid advertising appears after the GM team has had repeated meetings with Mr. Allen and his team, and after we had scheduled a meeting between the signatories and Ms. Barra," Morrissey said.

Benjamin Chavis, CEO and president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a trade group for Black media, said GM and Barra are "taking steps to deal with systemic racism — but it doesn’t happen overnight, or in one year."

He cautioned that systemic racism remains a major problem and, as much as GM has done, the automaker “and other corporations need to increase their advertising with Black-owned media.”

Since becoming GM CEO in January 2015, Barra has declared a goal of creating “the most inclusive company in the world." Last week the company appointed two new members to its board of directors: former Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman and Mark Tatum, the deputy commissioner and COO of the National Basketball Association.

After the death of George Floyd in police custody last May, Barra wrote a letter to employees saying that she was “impatient and disgusted” by the events and stressed the need to “individually and collectively” act.

Last June 19 — known as Juneteenth, the commemoration of the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States — GM asked employees to observe 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence, the amount of time Chauvin is recorded as having his knee on Floyd's neck during his fatal arrest, as a sign of solidarity with the black community. (Prosecutors at Chauvin's murder trial in Minneapolis this week have said it was actually 9 minutes and 46 seconds.)

But the newspaper ads said these moves didn't go far enough to create material change.

“You stand on stage, after the death of George Floyd, saying, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ when you have refused to acknowledge us,” the ad says of Barra. “The very definition of systemic racism is when you are ignored, excluded and you don’t have true economic inclusion.”

Barra declined a request for comment.