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Even before General Motors Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection last month, there were only three Black-owned GM dealerships in Illinois.

Even before General Motors Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection last month, there were only three Black-owned GM dealerships in Illinois.

The three dealerships are owned by Desmond Roberts of Advantage Chevrolet in southwest suburban Hodgkins and Bolingbrook, and Sam Oginni who owns Crystal Lake Pontiac GMC in suburban Crystal Lake. Roberts has been a GM dealer since 1999 and Oginni since 1995.

The soft economy is hurting auto sales nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, but both Roberts and Oginni said they plan to stick it out.

“I am not going anywhere. I have been through tough times before and survived and will make it through this storm, too,” said Roberts. “Black dealers are hurting all over, not just GM dealers.”

The biggest challenge Roberts said Black auto dealers have faced and continue to face is access to capital.

“Money dictates everything. If a dealer cannot gain access to capital to purchase inventory or expansion then it is almost impossible to open any kind of dealership,” he told the Defender.

But GM officials said the company has several initiatives to support its minority dealers including financing.

“It costs $350,000 to start up a GM dealership, and assistance is available,” said Darwin Wright, executive director of Dealer Development for General Motors Corp. “About 30 to 40 percent of our dealers are not making a profit this year, and that’s not good.”

And only GM’s North American region is in bankruptcy, not its other international regions.

Oginni agrees with Roberts that the biggest obstacle for Blacks wanting to become dealers is access to capital.

“I have been in business for 14 years, and I still have problems securing loans myself,” he said. “There needs to be a better way for Black businesses to receive capital if they need it. And until that happens, Blacks will always be in the minority category.”

Besides Illinois, there are 23 other states with Black-owned GM dealerships and Marjorie Staten, executive director of General Motors Minority Dealers Association, said that’s a shame.

According to Staten, there are currently 296 minority-owned GM dealerships, down from 2008 when there were 305. However, the number of Black GM dealers increased this year to 47 from 43 in 2008.

The National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers, an auto industry association, held its annual conference in Chicago from June 25-27 and President Damon Lester addressed the issue of Black dealers.

“Black dealerships are closing up at a rapid rate and are not being replaced, and that concerns me,” Lester said. “And while I am encouraged by the number of minority dealers that exist today, I am not satisfied because more needs to be done to ensure that minorities have an opportunity to become dealers and stay that way.”

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In photo: From left, Peggy Cockerham, Jenell Ross and Norma Ross are the only three Black, female General Motors dealers in the country.

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