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Rainbow PUSH Coalition to honor Martin Luther King Jr. with new documentary

A new documentary by Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition details King’s reason for coming to Chicago in 1966 and the birth of the PUSH Excel educational program. It airs Monday night.

Martin Luther King Jr. lived briefly in Chicago, ,moving to the city in 1966 to, among other things, highlight housing discrimination and living conditions of the city’s Black population. He is shown here at an August 1966 news conference in Chicago.
Associated Press

As the nation remembers Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, Rainbow PUSH Coalition is honoring the slain civil rights leader with a new documentary.

The coalition’s 32nd annual celebration of King will be virtual and starts at 10 a.m. Hosts will be Felicia Lawrence, a Chicago native who is an evening anchor at Indianapolis TV station WTHR and Josh Morris, a sophomore at the College of DuPage.

The event is free, but RSVPs are required. Those wishing to attend can register on the Rainbow PUSH website.

The documentary, ‘PUSH Excel Journey to Excellence,’ will air Monday night at 6:30 on NBC5 Chicago.

The documentary features scenes from protests as it discusses King’s move to Chicago in 1966, part of an ongoing campaign to highlight poor housing conditions in the city’s Black community. It also chronicles the creation of the PUSH Excel, the coalition’s educational branch.

PUSH Excel was created to fight “second-class schools and first-class jails” that Black, Brown and poor students were subjected to.

Today, it teaches students oratorical skills, robotics, computer science, coding and sports through the Dr. King’s Workshop program. It also provides scholarships and support to historically Black colleges and universities.

The 22-minute documentary includes interviews with members of the PUSH Excel board and is narrated by former CBS anchor Bill Kurtis.

Greg Mathis, known for his Judge Mathis courtroom TV show, appears in the documentary to thank Rev. Jesse Jackson, the coalition’s founder.

“My career started as a street youth and high school dropout,” Mathis says in the documentary. “But it was Rev. Jackson and his voice that ‘I am somebody’ that convinced me that I can change my life and turn toward working for our community.”

Speaking in front of a wall lined with photos of Jackson, Mathis shared his story of incarceration before Jackson’s mentorship helped him become the youngest judge in Michigan.

“I’m an example, one of many, of the work Rev. Jackson and PUSH Excel has done and continues to do,” Mathis says.

Jesse Jackson (left center) stands next to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., on April 3, 1968. The next day, King was assassinated in about the same spot. Also on the balcony were civil rights leaders Hosea Williams (far left) and Ralph Abernathy.
Jesse Jackson (left center) stands next to Martin Luther King Jr. on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., on April 3, 1968. The next day, King was assassinated in about the same spot. Also on the balcony were civil rights leaders Hosea Williams (far left) and Ralph Abernathy.
Associated Press

The documentary delves into Jackson’s history as well.

Jackson worked closely with King; in 1966, King appointed Jackson as head of the Chicago Operation Breadbasket economic program.

After King’s assassination, Jackson continued the fight toward equality. In 1971, Jackson founded Operation PUSH. In 1984 and again in 1988, Jackson sought the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

Jackson told the Sun-Times Friday he’d “vowed” to King that as long as he lived he would continue the fight for racial, economic and educational justice.

He said they fought to “protect what was gained,” and he’ll continue to protect those rights, particularly as the fight for new voting rights protections continues in Washington, D.C., and the cost of higher education continues to rise.

“It’s a dynamic process,” Jackson said of his activism. “It’s never static.”

Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.