With all of the suffering going on in the world, it can be tough to look beyond and see the brighter side of humanity. But some people still make that choice to do so.
In June 2015, 34-year-old Chicago mother Lucille Barnes was murdered on the street while trying to break up a fight. After hearing the news, Tamar Manasseh, also a mother, knew she had to do something to improve her neighborhood.
“I didn’t know her, but I was outraged,” Manasseh said in a YouTube video by Great Big Story. “I felt like, at this point, if mothers are being murdered, something has to be done.”
Just three days after Barnes’s death, Manasseh organized an “army of moms” dressed in hot pink T-shirts. They set up lawn chairs at 75th and Steward, the same corner when Barnes had been shot, and started an impromptu cookout.
“Some people thought it was too dangerous to go sit on a corner where someone had been murdered just three days before,” she said. But they were not afraid.
“We fed people. We talked to people. More importantly, we gave out a lot of hugs.”
That first cookout was the start of something magical. Members of Manasseh’s “army” stayed out there every day that summer—not only cooking food and providing supplies for fun outdoor activities, like sidewalk chalk, sports equipment, and jump rope—they also offered love and hope. Just like mothers tend to do.
“This is not exactly an avant-garde idea,” Manasseh explained in a New York Times op-ed. “I learned it from my mom, who learned it from hers, and so on, back until what I would imagine was the dawn of time.”
This movement has since turned into an organization known as Mothers Against Senseless Killings (M.A.S.K.). They’ve kept up this summer routine every year since M.A.S.K’s inception—all while throwing in a bunch of events throughout the year, like their Halloween and Christmas parties.
Their mission is “to put eyes on the streets, interrupt violence and crime, and teach children to grow up as friends rather than enemies.” So far, it seems like their efforts have been working.
“After just three summers on the block, violent crime and gun-related incidents in that census tract have declined dramatically,” Manasseh told The New York Times. “And this has had a ripple effect as far as a mile out. The neighborhood elementary school attended by a majority of our children has also seen improvements in student performance. All of this has happened with no real resources, new jobs or governmental assistance.”
M.A.S.K. has since spread to communities beyond Chicago, including Evansville, Indiana; Memphis, Tennessee; and Staten Island, New York. While it’s obviously been a big success, Manasseh can’t help but think that her organization could do more. So she asked her community what it needs to do to end gang violence.
“They told us they needed resources, jobs and skills training,” she continued. “They need a share of that $95 million planned for a new police and firefighter training center because now the community polices itself.”
While, gang violence is an enormously complicated issue that isn’t just going to vanish overnight, many have commended Manasseh for her efforts, which are sure to make a difference.
“Since we have posted up on the corner of 75th and Stewart, there have been no shootings on that block… There hasn’t even been as much as a fist fight!” said Manasseh. “There’s a sense of hope that they didn’t have before, all because we’re mothers. And you don’t want to underestimate the power of the mother.”