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  • Writer's pictureTennessee Diversity Consortium

A Lifelong Fight Against Racism with John Graves

John Graves, chair of the Rainbow PUSH Automotive Project and the Citizenship Education Fund, shares how his work with Reverend Jesse Jackson has changed his life.

John Graves has been a part of Rainbow PUSH since its founding in 1996. It is an organization that protects, defends, and gains civil rights in both economic and educational areas, and works to promote peace around the world.

“We've always identified an African American at each company that we will always say, how can we help you? Because you're doing the right thing. You’re representing your people, you are articulate, you're smart,” he said. “And that is important because if you don't have anyone at that company in an authoritative position, then no one's at the table.”

The Rainbow PUSH Automotive Project works specifically for African Americans in the automotive industry, and John Graves has dedicated his life to creating more spaces for African American voices to be heard and have a seat at the table.

How Graves got involved in Civil Rights

John Graves was expelled from school in February of 1965 because of a minor incident while he was a player on the football team. This is when his social justice life really began, he said. At just 15 years old, he was marching alongside people like James Bevel and C.T. Vivian.

“That was the connection that changed my life, being around them at the age of 15. It was just something that entered my soul and spirit. And I've just been on that journey ever since,” he said.

Graves met Reverend Jesse Jackson in the 10th grade, and this connection is how he eventually got to work on the Automotive Project for Rainbow PUSH. It was natural for him to get involved, Graves said. Everything he has done for the Reverend has been for his own personal fulfillment, with no payment attached.

The Rainbow PUSH Automotive Project

The Rainbow PUSH Coalition is an international human and civil rights organization that was founded by Reverend Jesse Jackson in 1996. The Automotive Project is specifically designed to ensure African American representation in the automotive supply chain industry, especially as it begins to transition to electric vehicles.

“If you don't begin to get in this game of EV space, whether it's on the battery side or on the supply side, you are going to be left behind to the point you can't catch up,” said John Graves.

He went on to emphasize how important it is for representation to happen now, because the industry is moving so quickly that even in just 5 years it will be too late for opportunities.

“Operations are becoming very clear that it's going to be EV driven. So I think both the auto companies and the suppliers and dealers, they've got to get in front of this and they've got to work together. Every CEO that I've spoken to said the window's still open. And now's the time to get in,” Graves said.

How Rainbow PUSH Ensures Representation

Rainbow PUSH holds companies accountable to meet their DEI objectives through a scorecard system. They are rated on 6 different areas including employment, advertising, marketing, procurement, dealer development, and philanthropy.

“All of the companies have responded to the scorecard because it's a tool that we do not measure them against the industry. We measure them against themselves,” said Graves.

Companies have become more and more responsive to these scorecards, taking accountability for the areas where they need improvement and working alongside Rainbow PUSH to create more inclusive spaces and representation in their companies.

To learn more about the ways you can get involved with the Tennessee Diversity Consortium, visit And be sure to subscribe to Speak Up for Equity wherever you listen to podcasts so you never miss an episode.


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