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Toyota Green Initiative collage

Tatyana Ali, Toyota’s Jim Colon, and the Toyota Green Initiative Prius

At this year’s Magic City Classic in Birmingham, Alabama, Toyota announced plans to donate 22 Prius cars to select HBCUs in the Southwestern Atlantic and CIAA conferences. School administrators will be granted one-year leases to the vehicles as part of the Toyota Green Initiative (TGI) program which aims to help students at historically black colleges and universities to live more sustainably.

At a press conference held at Alabama Power, Toyota VP of Product Communications Jim Colon told NewsOne that Toyota developed the TGI campaign after realizing that, despite the Prius’ 50-miles-per-gallon track record, the hybrid hadn’t quite resonated with people of color.

“It’s stimulating a dialogue in African-American communities that ‘we’re part of this too,'” Colon said. “It’s just not isolated to one group. We have the thinking; we have the background; we have the intelligence that everybody else has, and we’re going to use it. We’re going to empower ourselves, and we’re going to try to figure out how to make our lives better. Why should we be less healthy than everybody else?”

TGI Coalition member and former “Love That Girl” star Tatyana Ali recalled how some students were shocked to learn that the Hollywood vet isn’t rolling around in a Maybach. “I like what having a Prius says about me. It says this is where my values are,” said Ali. “I want to share that message of what it means to be respectful of your environment, respectful of your health and your place in this world.”

Stephen Graddick, a junior at Johnson C. Smith College, won the inaugural TGI Campus Contest by implementing the first recycling program at his school. He explained, “I’ve been really fortunate to be one of the students that’s able to stay on the Coalition for the last three years and travel with so many great people and really inspire so many students that are just like me to live a more sustainable lifestyle.”

This Birmingham stop also included an appearance at the annual Magic City Classic Scholarship Breakfast, a day of service planting a garden and installing energy-efficient light bulbs at a local community center, and, of course, attendance at the Magic City Classic football game between Alabama State University and Alabama A&M University.

For more photos of the event, click through the gallery below. And remember to vote for your favorite HBCU homecoming on NewsOne.com.