Black Women Promoting Peace and Justice in Our Communities
by Rachel Benjamin, DWJ Public Policy Fellow 2016
The month of June is generally recognized in this country as National Safety Month. Consequently, BWOPA/TILE's theme for the month of June is "Black Women Promoting Peace and Justice in our communities". We are honored to have Ms. Rachel Benjamin, one of our 2016 DWJ Fellows, explain the way one African-American woman uses her history with Chicago gang life to combat the ills of gang violence in impoverished communities. Her story reminds us that each one of us can make a difference by promoting peace within our communities.
The city of Chicago also referred to as "Chi-Raq" by some, is one of America's most deadly cities. Chicago's South Side is particularly troubled; it characterized by a concentration of gang violence, drug activity, poverty, and is primarily made up of African-American communities - also known as "concentrated disadvantage." In these communities, gun violence is a leading cause of death for young people. Within the first six months of 2016 alone, there have already been 1,599 sitting victims (Chicago Tribune). Law enforcement intervention has shown to be futile because the violence and disorder have continued to rage on.
Crime control/prevention initiative, CeaseFire, has been implemented in Chicago's South Side to address the gun violence head-on. This community led initiative utilizes community members as the primary interventionists in the effort to curb gun violence - they call themselves "the interrupters". Community activist Ameena Matthews, daughter of Jeff Fort, the co-founder of the Black P. Stones gang, has been a leader in the CeaseFire initiative. Using her past history of being immersed in the Chicago gang life, Ameena is able to relate to gang members on a personal level. Ameena uses her personal history to connect with gang members and helps them see the devastating effects that the violence they produce have on the community and the possible consequences it could have on their lives. When discussing her work with CeaseFire, Ameena says, "I'm not Ameena from the past or Jeff Fort's daughter. I'm Ameena with a soul, a peace builder who is showing others how to be peace builders and how to react in certain situations (Frontline)."
Ameena's efforts with the CeaseFire initiative promote peace and justice in the South Side Chicago community by transforming the way gang members perceive their actions. Ameena helps these individuals realize that their actions are doing more harm than good and urges them to put an end to the violence, thus creating a more peaceful and just community through utilizing community intervention rather than state intervention (i.e. law enforcement).