Carol Cain Free Press Business columnist
Published 6:30 AM EDT Nov 3, 2018
The 2017 Emmy for Best Legal/Courtroom Show he just won sits in a display case at the entry of his Los Angeles home, a shiny recognition of a 20-year career in television still on the rise. It joins an NAACP plaque and one from Martin Luther King Jr.’s family for his work in the community.
The native Detroiter and Eastern Michigan University graduate’s story is astonishing. Mathis has seen, and done it all.
His early childhood was dotted by run-ins with the law. He built a career that eventually led to him administering justice in 36th District Court, with years as a public servant working for the late Detroit City Councilman Clyde Cleveland and Mayor Coleman Young sprinkled in between. His “Judge Mathis” show now is seen nationally (including at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays on CW 50 in Detroit).
He has never forgotten his roots — and the late, great Aretha Franklin made sure, in her final days, that he wouldn’t. Already sickened by the calamity of the Flint water crisis and angry with the Snyder administration’s handling of it, Franklin, a longtime mentor and friend of Mathis, told him to make sure he kept the focus and pressure on the subject. Mathis has not been shy about expressing his disgust with Gov. Rick Snyder (he called for his resignation in 2016), his senior aides and those in the administration under whose watch this sad saga occurred.
On Thursday, Mathis, working with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Kroger, United Food & Commercial Workers Local 876, Teamsters 299, Teamsters Joint Council 43 and others, he sponsored gathered, and delivered hundreds of thousands of bottles of water to Flint. He appeared last Monday on ABC’s “The View” and other national shows as well as “Michigan Matters” (11:30 a.m. this Sunday on CBS 62) to make it clear he will not rest until this tragedy is fully remedied.
Mathis first reached out to help Flint in 2016 and got some heat from the media over it. But it was after hearing the state had stopped distributing bottled water to residents still in need that sent him over the edge. He mentioned it to Franklin during their last monthly phone call before her death, and the Queen of Soul issued one final directive:
“She told me, ‘Greg you have to go back. You have to help. You’re from Detroit. You’ve got to sock it to ‘em,’” he told me.
Mathis added he “learned the art of subtle activism with a national platform” from Franklin, who gracefully took on civil rights, women’s issues and more during a career that blended her incredible talent with her desire to make her city, state and nation a better place.
Mathis is now talking with Flint residents and leaders about whether they want to create a citizen task force to help keep in front of fallout of the lead-tainted water saga. If so, he wants to help.
He also wishes President Donald Trump would designate someone to update him on the Flint saga.
“It shouldn’t be someone in EPA,” he said. “It should be someone with a direct line to the president. Maybe someone with ties to FEMA, too, because Flint is a man-made disaster.”
Mathis, who splits his time among Detroit, Chicago — where he films his show — and other places promoting causes, also pays attention and spends his resources on the Mathis Community Center in Detroit, which he opened 19 years ago to mentor children and young adults. The center also offers employment counseling and job placement for ex-offenders.
With a red hot TV career, an early career in government, substantial personal wealth and his activism fully engaged, is Mathis interested in politics?
Mathis has been talked about as a potential Detroit mayoral candidate and, prior to signing a long-term extension with Warner Bros. last year for his show was courted by labor and clergy leadership Detroit to run for U.S. Rep. John Conyers’ vacant seat. (That seat is now likely to be held by Rashida Tlaib, winner of the Democratic nomination for Conyers’ full term seat, although it should be noted that Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, winner of the nomination for the rest of Conyers’ term, recently decided to wage a late-breaking write-in campaign for the full term.)
Although the 58-year-old community activist and celebrity will not rule out any future in government, he seemed to make clear a mayoral run might not be as attractive as other political positions.
“It’s been my observation either you are an activist or a manager. The mayor is a manager of a major multibillion corporation,” he said.
Healthy, happy and blessed, the married father of four with a 2-year-old granddaughter, Mathis clearly loves his city and state and strongly believes he has more to offer it going forward. And, anyone who knows him, knows not to ever discount his ability to make a difference.
Contact Carol Cain: 313-222-6732 or [email protected] She is senior producer/host of “Michigan Matters,” which airs at 11:30 a.m. Sundays on CBS 62. See Denise Ilitch, Suzy Avery and Judge Greg Mathis on this Sunday’s show.
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