Detroit Urban League honors UAW Ford's Jimmy Settles

Image 1 of 5

This week the Detroit Urban League holds their signature event The Salute to Distinguished Warriors, honoring leaders in human and civil rights. 

Another one of the honorees is a labor leader with a commitment to service - Jimmy Settles.

"Give us the right tools and give us good working conditions and we can produce the best products in the world," said Settles, United Auto Workers Ford vice-president.

This is how we usually see Settles - speaking on behalf of hard-working people. But it's what he also does behind the scenes that have earned him the title of Distinguished Warrior from the Detroit Urban League.

"Jimmy's name has been in the paper before but Jimmy has not been in the paper because of his background work," said N. Charles Anderson, Detroit Urban League. "The things that he has done to support schools, communities, young people and not just labor."

A Detroit native, Settles is committed to improving our community like spearheading new ballparks in the city, supporting organizations like the NAACP and he's a champion for children attending Detroit Public Schools.

"We just redid a swimming pool at Northwestern High School and when we had the opening there were kids with disabilities - the first people in the pool and that will stick with me for the rest of my life," he said.

When mentoring young people - his message is one of perseverance and hard work.

"Nobody is every going to outwork me," he said. 'You may not be the best of the best, but you'll be the best that you are."

Settles is no stranger to work, he started out with Ford Motor Company in 1968.

"I started at Dearborn Iron Foundry which is a day I'll never forget because I thought I was in hell," he said. "The foundry is some of the hardest, dirtiest work you can find."

Calling it a transformation into adulthood - it was more like a baptism by fire that gave him a new perspective.

"It was a great appreciation for my father - he worked in the foundry," he said. "I have great appreciation of working people, what they had to go through.

"You started work early - at that time there was unlimited hours - we were working 11 and half hours a day. There was no such thing as volunteer overtime - you only had every 14th day off so you would work one week seven days and the next six."

As he worked and went to college - he also became passionate about social justice wanting to be an agent of change.  From fighting for civil rights - to fighting for workers' rights. In 1970 he ran for office in the union, won and worked his way up through the UAW, grateful to be a voice for working people. 

"You get a feeling because when you go and help somebody and they say thank you," Settles said. "It's unexplainable the gratitude that you have inside that you get when you're helping people. Forty years later I feel the same way."

Settles' term as vice president ends in 2018.  

"You go through life, you reach my age, and you hope you made an impact - a great impact," Settles said.

He's not exactly sure what's next - but one thing he knows for sure.  We don't all have to agree - but we do have to work together to build a better community.

"Whatever I'm doing I'll be out here helping people," he said. "I don't know how, but I will if the good Lord continues to give me good health. I'm not going to be sitting on the front porch; I'm going to be doing something to assist somebody, somewhere.

"It's been a great journey - you know.  Just to see this one ending - I'm going to start something else. We have bad days too, but I tell you, I'm a blessed guy."

Jimmy Settles is one of five honorees who will be recognized Thursday night at the Salute to Distinguished Warriors Dinner.  Tickets are still available - just visit the Detroit Urban League website by CLICKING HERE.