GRAND BOULEVARD — Second chances do happen, and Mario White had his Saturday night when he attended his first prom at 24 years old.
He was even crowned prom king.
“I feel good, I was very surprised,” he said.
White, who has since gotten his GED, dropped out of high school. Through Mothers Against Senseless Killings, White was able to finally go to prom.
Once again, the "army of moms" as they’re called, are spreading love, said Tamar Manasseh, an organizer of the mothers' group that's been guarding Englewood corners. She put on the special prom for Englewood teens and young adults who never attended their own. They had the black-tie affair in the Grand Boulevard community at The Connection, 4321 S. Cottage Grove. Some of the attendees were fitted for tuxedos at the Men's Wearhouse, which provided the formalwear at discount. Thanks to sponsors, the young men were able to put on their first tuxedo.
“I’ve never worn a suit before, I’ve never had on dress shoes,” said Daryl Crosby, 30. “This organization helped change my life and a lot of the young guys so I love to be a part of it.”
He missed out on his high school prom because he was incarcerated when he was 17.
“I was in the streets. I ended up going to jail for 5 years, 11 months. When I came home I was 25. Those were the prime years, with that I missed everything.”
Crosby said that after he got fitted on Thursday, he couldn’t stop smiling. He is grateful for everything MASK, the mothers group, has done and the difference they’ve made in his life, and the other Englewood young men.
“To be around good people, it’s different and it’s actually fun,” Crosby said.
“Tamar hugs these guys, she tells them she loves them and they never heard that before. ... I’m just happy to see these guys people call thugs — look how they’ve cleaned up. They’re dressed up. These are the guys they’re calling gangbangers, but they’re the future of the neighborhood."
About 75 people attended the event, which also served as a fundraiser for the group to secure a building that the mothers want to turn into a youth center this winter.
Initially, the young adults remained seated at their tables, but after some coaxing from the DJ and volunteers, everyone made their way to the dance floor. The first song that warmed the crowd up was the popular “Wobble” line dance, a catchy hip-hop song that’s often played at weddings, birthday parties and other large gatherings.
Many of the young men took out their phones and started recording the group. Manasseh moved around the room, dancing and smiling with the attendees. There was a silent auction for six different gift baskets. There was a movie-themed basket with a $25 AMC gift card, candy, popcorn and other treats. There was even a dog gift basket full of treats for a dog.
Midway through the night, a video was shown recapping the group’s journey since its inception in June. Certificates of Appreciation were given to each devoted participant who has changed their life around since joining the mothers' group.
Later on, Xavier McElrath-Bey, a youth justice advocate with the campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth shared his personal story. As the music faded, he took the microphone, and told his story of getting arrested for a gang related murder at the age of 13. He was convicted and sentenced to serve 25 years in prison.
“A lot of these kids, it’s sad to say, who come into the justice system, they’re not given a second chance,” McElrath-Bey said.
“They’re given life without the possibility of parole. They’re given, 40, 50, years and that’s the sad reality that many kids from [the black] community face. So if I can help stop that from happening by speaking to them, sharing something with them that is inspiring, by all means I ask God every day to give me that ability.”
Manasseh said that the prom was a success and she plans to make this an annual event.
“When I saw them get out the car I almost started crying,” she said. “It was the most beautiful thing in the world to see my kids getting out that car with their suits on, with their haircuts.”
“If I could do this every day I would. We have way too many funerals, not enough proms, not enough graduations, not enough happy days, not enough celebrations.”
To find help support Mothers Against Senseless Killings, visit the group's website at www.Getbehindthemask.org.
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