When Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.’s home church, the historic Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, 4543 S. Princeton Ave., hosted an 80th birthday celebration on Thursday, October 28, it was an opportunity for many of his longtime supporters to reveal how he literally changed their lives in a very positive, surprising and challenging way.
During Rev. Jackson’s 80th birthday celebration, which was held both in person and virtually and co-hosted by the acclaimed Judge Greg Mathis and actress Holly Robinson Peete, Judge Mathis explained how it was Rev. Jackson who when visiting a Detroit jail, caught his eye and challenged him to turn his life around.
Rev. Jackson graphically explained to Mathis why it was not cool to be selling drugs then threw him a lifeline Mathis chose to grab and step-by-step began meeting the mandate the civil rights icon had challenged him to take.
Once jailed for carrying a gun, which normally would have gotten him three to five years, Mathis served only seven months. That is when he met Rev. Jackson. “He gave his ‘I Am Somebody’ challenge. Rev. Jackson helped to rescue me from a life of crime in the streets of Detroit as a teenager,” recalled Judge Mathis. “I’ll never forget the empowerment and the words that he spoke to me when I asked if I could join the movement.
“He said you don’t have any ammunition. He said go and get some ammunition and then you can work for me…ammunition as in a quality education, empower myself and fight back, and that is what I did, and I’ve been fighting alongside him ever since, 46 years now,” Mathis told the Crusader.
Mathis, who never graduated from high school but thanks to Rev. Jackson went on to get his GED, thanked the civil rights icon for mentoring him from jail and now Mathis is one of the most popular TV judges in America. He is a former Michigan 36th District Court judge, author, television producer, a powerful motivational speaker and activist.
Rev. Dr. S. Todd Yeary, Vice President of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, is another person Rev. Jackson is responsible for changing his life and mission. “Rev. Jackson literally changed the trajectory of my imagination about my life.
“When I met him as a senior in high school, there were certain things that young Black boys from the South were expected to do,” Yeary said. “In the course of a brief conversation after I happened to be the one who introduced him on the day that he came to my high school, he asked me a question. ‘What would you be a preacher or a lawyer?’ I never even considered either of them, and now I am both of them because Rev. Jackson helped to expand the capacity of my imagination. That is what Rev. Jackson means to me.
Terisa Griffin, who sang several songs at the birthday celebration, told the Crusader, “Rev. Jackson is a symbol of dedication, freedom and never giving up. As an African American woman coming from the South, he is everything. I hope that people understand what he is giving us. He is a national treasurer.”
Throughout the celebration, a number of videos were shown including from President Joe Biden, music producer icon Berry Gordy, attorney CK Hoffler, Rep. Bobby L. Rush, who thanked Rev. Jackson for saving his life. Videos also highlighted Rev. Jackson’s legacy, including how in 1984 he was successful in getting the release of 48 Cuban and Cuban American prisoners, and in 1990 how he got the release of foreigners used as ‘human shields.” Another video showed how Rev. Jackson in 2000 successfully got the release of four journalists being held in Liberia.
Another singer, Lalah Hathaway, the daughter of Donny Hathaway, sang, also the singer Major performed. As well, a number of pictures and videos of a younger Rev. Jackson and his wife, Dr. Jacqueline Jackson, were also shown.