ENGLEWOOD — The "Army of Moms" has redeployed.
Mothers Against Senseless Killings, a group of mothers who started patrolling Englewood after a murder last year, is back on the streets of Englewood after receiving national attention for its efforts to fight violence last year. The group also now has chapters in other cities.
"We came to do a sociological experiment. The theory is that if you build community, violence stops," said Tamar Manasseh, an Englewood native who founded the group. "It's not necessarily saying 'Put the guns down.' It's about giving people a reason to put the guns down. And if there are 100 people out here on the corner eating, who going to come through here shooting?"
Manasseh has led a team of volunteers — dubbed the "army of moms" — who sit outside in folding chairs to help prevent violence, generally starting at 4 p.m. each day. The efforts started last summer, before the group took a break, but then restarted during Spring Break of this year and now this summer.
There has been only one shooting in the 7500 block of South Stewart Ave. since MASK set up on the block to prevent retaliations after the June 23, 2015, murder of 34-year-old Lucille Barnes, according to a DNAinfo Chicago map of shootings in the city. There was also a shooting in the 7400 block of South Harvard Avenue in August of last year, but the moms had stopped their patrols on that block long before then. And both shootings took place late at night when the patrols aren't in force.
Since the group's efforts have came to light, other community organizations have used their blueprint to combat the gun violence in their own communities. The group now has chapters in New York — which Manasseh visited — and Evansville, Ind. Black Lives Matter volunteers have also come to observe what her group is doing.
Manasseh calls it the "MASK Effect."
"MASK has evolved. This is something that came out of Englewood that everybody wants. Something that happened in Englewood is now spreading to places like Hyde Park," Manasseh said. "You wouldn't think a neighborhood like that would need it, but it's not about stopping the violence, it's about building communities. These are people's lives you can save and these people can save your life."
Manasseh credits their success to applying to the sensibilities of human nature. While the group stands on a corner, they often give out food to community members.
"Food brings people together," she said.
Manasseh estimates that she has at least 50 volunteers from the neighborhood who come out to help her in keeping the block safe.
"No one is going to come through here and shoot at somebody's grandmother because that's not what black folks do," Manasseh said. "That's not who we are and that is why we were able to do this. Every day I'm out here. Nothing has happened out here. Not even a fist fight."
While the response in the neighborhood has been overwhelmingly positive, not everyone in the neighborhood is happy with the presence of the group.
A man who co-owns a building where the moms usually set up shop recently parked his car in the spot their barbecues take place, group members say. He also filed a complaint with the police against Manasseh for trespassing.
"The district commander [Rodney Blisset] came out and said there was no problem. Why is it a problem now? Positive loitering is a good thing," Manasseh said. "Why now? It wasn't trespassing when we started?"
Kim Dunbar, a member of group who lives in the building, said "if we weren't here, other folks would be here hanging out."
The building owner could not be reached for comment.
But others have strongly backed the moms.
Kofi Ademola, the lead organizer for the Chicago chapter of Black Lives Matter, came out to see the moms give away food to community members. He said he supports the efforts.
"We see what MASK is doing on a grassroots level by bringing communities together. Them being out there showing that the black family is still strong by providing basic, minimum resources," Ademola said. "We want to help uplift them whenever they need help. Things happen when violence isn't looked at as a public health issue."
Manasseh, who now lives in Bronzeville, said in order for efforts like hers to work in other areas, the community has to take charge. Other groups haven't had as much success without that connection.
"They've used our model but they have all lacked consistency. That's the most important component. That's what makes it work," Manasseh said. "The trick is to build a relationship with the community. You have to have to a place where people can go. You have to get to know them, and they have to get to know you. That's how it works.
"If you can't get the community to come out, there's no reason to be there. That's what it's about. Communities can't build each other up unless they are willing to work. People want to stop the violence, but they have to make sure it really stops.They want government and the police to do it for them. We can't rely on those entities to do it. We all impact one another. We are all connected."
Manasseh said her efforts to change communities, which has led her to travel to other cities and appear on national news programs, haven't had an adverse effect on her personal life. She said she leans on the tenants of her Jewish faith.
"My family comes to the block with me. They know that if they want to spend time with mom, they have to come here. My kids had friends who've been murdered so they understand how important this is," Manasseh said. "We're Jewish and Jews are big on charity and social justice. My kids go to a Jewish Day school. This is what we do as people. We look out for each other."
Manasseh said that since her group made its mark in their community, it doesn't plan on letting up.
"People know that we're here. And this has become the gathering spot," Manasseh said. "Respect has been restored. Order has been restored. When you restore order, guess what? People stop getting shot."
For more information regarding donating or volunteering with the group, visit its website.
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