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Mathis leaving Rainbow/PUSH to lead NCNW

By Maynard Eaton
On January 11, 2016

Rainbow/Push Vice President Janice Mathis will head
the historic National Council of Negro Women
civil rights group succeeding the late Dorothy Height.

(TriceEdneyWire.com) – She’s been Atlanta’s premier female civil rights activist since the late Jondelle Johnson, the fervent and forceful former executive director of Atlanta’s NAACP who was known as “Mrs. NAACP” for her leadership in the 1970s and 1960s.

Now attorney Janice Mathis, the vibrant vice president of Rainbow/PUSH has been named executive director of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), a powerful 80-year-old civil rights organization focused on women and families “Jondelle is my role model. I never met her but I read about her,” said Mathis, who has also served as Rev. Jesse Jackson’s general counsel, chief of staff and closest confidant at Rainbow/PUSH for the past 16 years. “She was tough and demanding and effective and fair. You can’t be in Atlanta around civil rights work and not know about and [not] respect Jondelle Johnson.”

Mathis, 61, is also the current Vice President of the Citizenship Education Fund in Chicago, where she directs the CEF’s Southern Region office and is responsible for legal affairs and programs. She is about to fill some iconic shoes.

“I admit to having a little bit of ambition and a little bit of ego, so this is a chance to lead something that has an 80-year history that was founded by Mary McCloud Bethune and carried out by Dorothy Height,” she said. “To be considered in the same sentence with them is the opportunity of a lifetime for a Black female.”

The NCNW is a Washington, D.C.-based international non-profit organization that was founded on Dec. 5, 1935 by Mary McLeod Bethune, the famed African-American educator. Women and civil rights icon Dorothy Irene Height, president emeritus, led the organization for more than 50 years before her death in 2010.

“It’s tough to leave,” Mathis admitted during an exclusive interview. “Atlanta is an amazing place with so much going on and so much potential. People don’t flock here for no reason. What’s not to love about Atlanta? And, just when you think you are beginning to understand it and figure it out, you get the offer of a lifetime for somebody like me.”

“Janice is very unique, very smart and very hard working,” opined Joe Beasley, the Rainbow/PUSH Southern Regional Director. “Jesse relied heavily on her. She will really be missed. Janice really is in that tradition Mary McCloud Bethune and Dorothy Height. She is filling some big shoes. But had she stayed with us, I suspect she would have soon succeeded Jesse. She’s that good.”

Rev. Jesse Jackson called her his top aide and one of his closest friends, who will focus like a laser on economics in the Black community. “If anybody can re-tool NCNW, it is Janice Mathis,” said Jackson.

Mathis sees herself making inroads in corporate America through the buying clout and cash of African-American women. She says NCNW is poised and politically positioned for the new and next phase of the civil rights movement.

“You might call it Black dollars matter. The thing I will take from Rainbow/PUSH and will transfer is my focus on economics,” she said. “Obviously there is a symbiotic relationship between politics and economics. You can’t have one without the other. They are like black eye peas and corn bread, they go together. We need more economic strength and we need more focus on how we direct our dollars.

“You see a lot of studies now about how much money we control, but how many institutions do we control with that money,” she continued. “Black women wear these St. John suits and they spend billions of dollars on makeup and hair products, but how [much] influence do we have with those organizations? So you will see a little bit of PUSH in my leadership style. Black women have a lot of buying power, a lot of financial decision making, a lot of banking, a lot of automotive, a lot of insurance, on and on and on. Suppose there as an NCNW seal of approval for various products that were sensitive to our concerns like Good Housekeeping?”

Mathis’ new professional promotion comes at a tragic personal time for her unfortunately. The same day it was announced she would be the new NCNW leader, her husband of 24 years, Harry Johnson, died of a sudden heart attack. The 62-year-old Johnson was the first Black new car salesman in Athens, Georgia. While this has been the worst of times and the best of times for the grieving Mathis, she believes much is the same for Atlanta.

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