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Cars as People Movers | Penta

Walking into a Ferrari dealership is easy, but believing you belong there—that’s a whole other thing. 

Chanterria McGilbra did—eventually—find her way to Ferrari’s door, and her ownership became the gateway for a new career empowering young African-American women to dream big. 

Her Prancing Ponies Foundation subsidizes student attendance at leadership academies, conferences, and workshops (with income stipends to make up for lost wages) and organizes an annual all-female car show and the world’s first all-female Ferrari rally. 

Such a wide-angle life wasn’t on her radar early on. McGilbra grew up in the Bay Area, the youngest (with her twin sister) in a family of eight. Her father worked three jobs. Money for luxuries wasn’t there, but a strong work ethic was. When McGilbra wanted a pair of Converse shoes at 12, she had to take babysitting jobs to pay for them. She also got strong mentoring attending high school at the San Francisco School of Arts—and the idea of college took root. 

At California State, East Bay, her sociology studies included a fortuitous deep dive into IT, and that led to a series of senior-level jobs, culminating in her current position as operations leader at the Janssen Pharmaceutical Cos. of Johnson & Johnson. 

“I knew not one Black woman in an amazing car growing up,” McGilbra says. “But I believe in signs, and in 2015 a clear message popped into my head—look at Ferraris…I walked out of the showroom with Coco, my 562-horsepower 458.” (The car was so named because “she’s all chocolate suede on the inside,” McGilbra says.)

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The 458 Italia was introduced at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2009, succeeding the F430, and 2015 was its last year. Its 4.5-liter V8 engine features direct fuel injection, with a seven-speed Getrag dual-clutch automatic. It hits 62 miles per hour in 3.4 seconds.

The general manager at the Ferrari dealer in San Francisco told her she was the first African-American woman in Northern California to own a Ferrari. She even went to Italy to see the car—titanium paint, brown interior, yellow brake calipers—being built. 

“Initially, the other Ferrari owners seemed confused,” McGilbra says. “Who was this single Black woman roaming around? Eventually they realized I was just as passionate about the cars as they were—I wasn’t looking for a husband. My goal is to have as much fun as I possibly can in this car.” 

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Soon after buying the 458, McGilbra pulled up near a bus stop near Galileo High School in San Francisco when a trio of young girls—African-American, Hispanic, and Asian—told her how much they loved her car. “I expect you to get one, too,” she told them. 

That’s when the idea for Prancing Ponies was born. The nonprofit launched in 2016, and has since won plaudits from Oprah Winfrey, Microsoft, and others. 

“We provide all the skills these young women would have to learn over years on their first jobs,” McGilbra says. “That includes résumé writing, project planning, media skills, how to interview and be interviewed, how to present themselves, how to self-brand. It’s amazing to watch them blossom.” 

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McGilbra said some of the young women in the program work in the service industry or doing hourly work, and attending workshops or seminars would be financially impossible for them without Prancing Ponies. The program will assist 20 girls and women this year, and as many as 100 next year.

Monterey Car Week in August is a kaleidoscope of events, but one of the more memorable is the Prancing Ponies Women’s Car Show, with its rows of Ferraris and Porsches in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea. “Hot chicks and hot cars,” McGilbra laughs. 

Her 458 now has 26,000 miles on it, which is a lot considering that many Ferraris are garage queens. “I go to every rally and track day,” she says. “All the mileage was put on during special events—Coco and I had a great time.” 

This article appeared in the June issue of Penta magazine.

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