Among the first African American Marines was an aspiring entrepreneur with metro Detroit roots who would go on to become the first Black supplier of aftermarket parts to Chrysler. That multitalented gentleman was the late Earl Hood Sr.
Today, Mr. Hood’s name still is associated with automobiles, thanks to his son, Earl “Butch” Hood Jr., who operates Hood’s Car Care Clinic in northwest Detroit.
“He was all about equality, and because of everything he experienced, he came to realize that unless you own it and run it, you’re not going to be successful,” the 66-year-old said of his father, who, before enlisting in the Marines, moved with his family in 1926 to a Ferndale neighborhood where they were welcomed with a burning cross on their front lawn about a month later. “His attitude was: 'You don’t want a piece of the pie, you want to make the pie.' And, as a result, he said, 'None of my kids will work for anybody,' so the plan was for each of us to own our own businesses.”
Just as his father, who died at the age of 90 on Jan. 24, 2013, and the other historic Montford Point Marines overcame racial discrimination in the military to proudly serve their country during World War II, Hood Jr., draws upon lessons learned from his father, as he dishes out his own brand of service from a Wyoming Avenue location — 18462 Wyoming to be exact (between Curtis and 7 Mile) — that he has been attached to for 51 years.
“One of my father’s philosophies was that whenever you were having problems — let’s say you’re hurting or feeling bad — do something for somebody,” said Hood, who also described annual family trips to Clarendon, Arkansas, when he was growing up, to bring relatives up to Detroit for a better life. “That was my father’s thing. And that was how it was with my family: If you weren’t helping someone, something was wrong. And when I got into this business, with customers, it was an easy transition for me because you can always tell when things are tight with people, and then you help them out.
"It’s not just a business for me, it’s a ministry. And taking care of people is what we’re supposed to do.”
But before Hood, a master mechanic, could ever take care of people, the business had to be built. He explained that process Thursday from a small office space at Hood’s Car Care Clinic. Minutes after completing what he described as a long and hard day of working on cars, Hood was pointing to shelves he helped put in as a youngster, when the business was called C&H Auto Parts and was a supplier — first to Chrysler and then General Motors. As Hood wiped sweat from his forehead with his wife, Karon, nearby, it became easier to envision him as a young man simultaneously attending Henry Ford High School (Class of 1974) by day, taking night trade classes and working at C&H Auto Parts.
More from Scott Talley: For 'amazed' Detroit dad, a 45-truck fleet began with one Happy Meal
The auto parts business became Hood’s Car Care Clinic in 1980, when demand for his flourishing mechanical skills reached a point where a full transformation to an automotive repair center was required. In the midst of “loving every minute of it” as a young mechanic working 16-hour days — or even longer if a customer sweetened the deal by offering a bonus for a faster turnaround on an extensive job — Hood says he injured his back and still deals with back issues today. If Hood walked around his shop and the surrounding Wyoming neighborhood preaching “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” sermons given the road he traveled to build his business, it would be understandable. However, for his customers today, who he says are increasingly trying to hold on to their vehicles longer while dealing with high gas prices and other economic challenges, Hood delivers a message that reveals his compassion and connection to the community he serves.
“Today, a guy came in and he truly needed about $1,100 worth of work and I said, 'Look, let’s put you on a schedule and let’s do a little bit at a time. That way, I can keep you driving and keep money in your pocket,’ ” Hood, who reports having a database with 2,500 customers, said. “If you come in here as a customer, you were told about us, because I don’t advertise — my advertisement is my work. What I’m known for is standing behind my work and helping you manage your money to make the right decision about getting your car repaired. It’s about protecting your customer, because this is a family member, and my customers trust me like family. I’m going on my fourth and fifth generation with some customers. I’ve watched babies have babies, and now their kids come here to get their cars fixed. That’s pretty cool.”
While Hood joked about an experience years ago when he learned from a customer that he received a five-star review on Google — and not initially knowing what that meant — there is no denying the pride that comes through Hood’s voice when he talks about his approach to business. When he describes what he does, he never names other businesses that operate differently; the words "competitor" or "competition" never come out of his mouth. Instead, as 6 p.m. approached, he turned the focus back to the man who provided him with a model for success; the same gentleman who was married to Hood’s mother, Gloria, for 61 years.
“My father was a living example to all of his children (Nanette, Nancy, Arlene, Rachelle, Earl and Carl),” said Hood, who demonstrated the closeness of his bond with his father by sharing photos saved on his phone of his father, including a portrait of when his father graduated from the old Lincoln High School in Ferndale, where he was the captain of the cross-country team. “He said 'When a Hood comes in, you should know a Hood has been there,' so that’s the standard that Pops set for us to make a difference in everything we do.”
Speaking of differences: About a decade ago, Hood Jr. almost chose a different path.
“I was trying to leave here maybe 12, 15 years ago to go full time into the ministry, and a couple of my customers said we’re not praying for the same thing,” said Hood, who is an associate pastor at Middlebelt Baptist Church where he also leads the Inkster chapter of the B.O.M.B. (Bring Our Men Back) Squad, a "movement of men on a quest for authentic manhood,” which meets Saturday mornings during designated times of the year. “The customers said 'We’re praying that you stay here and you’re praying to leave.'
"Then one lady came up to me and said: ‘Mr. Hood, THIS is your ministry, this is your calling.' And then she asked: 'How come you can’t do church here?’ And I came to realize that everything that is taught in church can be utilized here. … I still have some customers that come up to me and say 'I don’t know what I’m going to do when you retire.' And I say I don’t know what I’m going to do either, because I need a mechanic too.”
Scott Talley is a native Detroiter, a proud product of Detroit Public Schools and lifelong lover of Detroit culture in all of its diverse forms. In his second tour with the Free Press, which he grew up reading as a child, he is excited and humbled to cover the city’s neighborhoods and the many interesting people who define its various communities. Contact him at: email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @STalleyfreep. Read more of Scott's stories at www.freep.com/mosaic/detroit-is/.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Hood's Car Care Clinic owner Earl Hood Jr. treats customers as family