By Chinta Strausberg
Later, Jackson commented on the upcoming election saying, “It will be Doomsday or Dignity Day. If we vote our numbers, it will be Dignity Day. If we don’t, it will be Doomsday. We have the power to make it Dignity Day.”
Jackson’s daughter, Santita, chaired a panel discussion with Sharpton, Judge Greg Mathis, her brother, Jonathan, and Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans asking them how they met her father.
Jackson sat in the audience smiling as the praises and testimonies of how he had helped them poured in. One of them was a former felon turned judge.
Calling himself a “street youth” from Detroit once jailed for carrying a gun, which normally would have gotten him three to five years, but he served only seven months, Mathis said he met Jackson while in jail in the late 1970s.
“He gave his ‘I Am Somebody’ challenge, and I was inspired by that message and changed my life. I told him I want to fight with you, but Rev. Jackson told me to go to college and then I could work with him.” Mathis went to college, and in 1983 when Jackson ran for the presidency, “We united with him. He mentored me from jail to jail to 15 years and I am forever committed to him for that.”
Saying he is proud every time he sees Mathis, Jackson said he met him when he was in jail “not as a visitor, but a resident. Judge Mathis never got his high school diploma. He got his GED. He went to college, married, family still together, came out with degree, law school…from jail to judgeship. You represent us so well every day in so many ways as a cultural transformer.”
Jackson paid homage to his late mother, Helen Burns Jackson, saying, “I wish my mother was here. It’s my second birthday without her and my father, so pray for us as we continue to work through that situation. I’ve been blessed to be a long-distance runner with a will to serve. I find my joy in serving.” He said of all of the prisoners he rescued only one ever called at Christmas time, but he would do it again because “It’s not the thanks,” but rather the grace of helping others that matters.
Many people gave tributes to Jackson, including Edward Calahan, president of Calahan Funeral Home, Henrietta Leak from Leak & Sons Funeral Home, firemen, businessmen, and others, like Dr. Matt Harrington, who said Jackson “has done so much for our country in the days of civil rights and his leadership, and I look forward for more of it to come and not ending anytime soon.”
U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-2nd) said, “75 is a milestone. He’s lived a full, giving life.”
Jackson even received a key to the city of Gary from Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson. “It is a blessing to join the voice of the citizens of Gary as you celebrate this great man of God who has meant so much to so many.” She praised him for supporting Mayor Richard Hatcher and said through that “generations of young people saw themselves in that mayor’s office and that is a direct testament to me and others that we could be whatever we wanted to be.”
Jackson was also saluted by his own pastor, Rev. Clay Evans, who thanked him for helping him save his church. Evans allowed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak at his church, which was frowned upon my many ministers and the mayor of Chicago. He paid a heavy price for that causing the construction of Fellowship Baptist Church to stand as a shell for nearly seven years.
Evans credited its completion to then-young Jackson, who co-signed a $500,000 loan, which allowed Clay to complete the construction of the church located at 45th and Princeton. “You mean more to me than anybody else in this room,” Evans told Jackson.
Doris Redic, a retired cosmetologist and educator for Soft Sheen products, said, “I love Rev. Jackson. I love the movement that he is in. Just keep on pushing because it is working.”
Bernie Ijimakin, a paramedic field chief, said, “I think it’s a very beautiful thing to have him around still. We are very blessed to have a man like him to be mentors and to look up to. He’s been a great example, and we’re happy for him.”
Others saluting Jackson, included the Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce, along with Wisconsin State Senator Lena Taylor, who thanked him for the international she and her Black colleagues received.
At the press conference, Jackson called for a White House conference and spoke about the violence and the easy flow of guns “coming in by the truckloads. The president is in town about five houses down the street. We need his attention…more than 3,000 have been shot and 500 killed. We need help.”
Father Michael L. Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church, ended the live broadcast with a prayer. “We thank you God for the price he’s paid, for the tears he’s shed, for the sacrifice he’s made…for the criticism he withstood, for all the times nobody ever said ‘thank you.’ We thank you God when he took up the mantle of Martin Luther King, Jr. We thank you for the 75 years he has been consistent and being a voice for justice; a prophetic voice that made the comfortable feel uncomfortable, the satisfied feel unsatisfied. We thank you for his gift…for his life.”