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Not defined by tragedy Painful deaths won’t deter determined Black mothers

By Starla Muhammad Managing Editor @simplystarla23 | Last updated: Aug 7, 2019 - 3:51:54 PM

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Charvonda Andrews is consoled as she mourns two women killed July 26 while working as volunteers with a group called Mothers Against Senseless Killings, July 30, 2019 in Chicago. Photo: APJohn Alexander/Chicago Sun-Times

—When will enough be enough? That is the question many are asking in the aftermath of the senseless killing of two young, Black mothers who were committed to helping protect their community from the type of violence that ultimately claimed their lives.

Andrea Stoudemire, 35 and Chantell Grant, 26, were members of Mothers Against Senseless Killings (MASK), a group that works to prevent conflict in their Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. The women were at the corner of  75th Street and South Stewart Ave. where MASK volunteers sit and keep watch during the summer. 

On this summer evening, they were just standing outside in their neighborhood, doing nothing else.

Tamar Manesseh of Mothers Against Senseless Killings (center) prepares to cut the ribbon marking the grand opening of the organizations Peace of Pizza. The eatery, is located in the Beverly neighborhood of Chicago and will provide job training for area youth. Photos: Haroon Rajaee

According to Chicago police, around 10 p.m. on July 26 the women were standing at the corner when someone opened fire from a blue SUV.  Ms. Stoudemire and Ms. Grant were shot several times in the chest. A man was hit in the arm, but his injuries were not life threatening. 

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said the intended target was a man who had been recently paroled, but no arrests have been made. Police spokesperson Kellie Bartoli told The Final Call the case is still an open and active investigation, and no one was in custody. Anyone with information can submit anonymous tips to, she said.  

Since 2015 the mothers of MASK have made their presence known in the Englewood area protecting and engaging residents, particularly children. They also play games and prepare and distribute food in the area. MASK has invested in building a school and community resource center at that corner. 

For the last few years, the mothers worked diligently and consistently to make it a safe space.  

Customer enjoying her pizza from newly-opened business in Beverly. Peace of Pizza is located at 1801 W. 95th Street, in Chicago.

Days after the tragedy a makeshift memorial with a couple of signs and balloons dedicated to Andrea, a mother of three and Chantell, a mother of four, was a grim reminder of what happened.  A Go Fund Me campaign organized on behalf of MASK with a goal of raising $5,000 for a reward for information to bring the killers to justice was nearly $32,000 by Final Call presstime.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the killings “horrifying, sad and devastating.” During the first weekend of August, 74 people were shot, 12 fatally, reported the Chicago Tribune. According to police, the 282 murders reported from Jan. 1 to July 31 of this year is a 13 percent drop from the 321 reported during the same period in 2018. In an op-ed published in the Chicago Sun Times, Supt. Johnson wrote that it takes courage, commitment and compassion to confront violence. 

“Murders and shootings are down 11% compared with this time last year, and many of our neighborhoods are at their lowest levels of burglaries and robberies in the last 20 years. Overall, crime is down 9% throughout Chicago, and this July saw a 33% reduction in murders compared to July 2018,” the city’s top cop wrote in the July 31 article. 

That is little consolation to Black residents who still disproportionately make up shooting and crime victims particularly on the South and West Sides. 

Tamar Manesseh of Mothers Against Senseless Killings points to one of several structures that will serve as classrooms for “The Block Academy” located at the corner of 75th Street and Stewart Ave. in the Englewood neighborhood. The academy will offer vocational and other classes to area youth and young adults. Photo: Haroon Rajaee

“The bad thing about it is that we (Black women) even have to be the protectors of our community. That’s the most heartbreaking of all that sisters have to stand in the gap to protect us,” said LaKeisha Gray-Sewell, a local activist and founder of The Girls Like Me Project. “I’m just always, always asking, where are the brothers to protect us? Why are Black women protecting themselves from Black men who are shooting?” Her organization mentors Black girls and teens and recently held a camp and participants recorded videos responding to a question about finding peace during a time so often plagued by violence.  

“The question was in light of all the violence that’s in this city that we’re surrounded by, where do I find my peace? I think that is what we all, in order to keep our morale up and our vibrations high, we all have to ask ourselves where do we find peace and to be intentional in creating those peaceful places and creating that space to remember peace. Not to just keep going, not to act as if it (violence) hasn’t happened because it has, but to acknowledge that it’s happening and then to intentionally create space to move us forward to heal, to remember and reflect on good,” said Ms. Gray-Sewell. 

Despite these tragedies, those that work in their communities’ vow to continue doing whatever is necessary to bring peace to the streets of Chicago and promise to continue to fight for change. “What really keeps me going is the future of our children,” said Carolyn Ruff, of Black Lives Matter Women and Men of Faith. She had come by the corner of 75th and Stewart to pay her respects to the memories of the young mothers. She tries to mentor young people she comes into contact with. “I know that we can’t stop. We can’t have fear in order to accomplish something in our community. We have to keep the struggle going,” she said.

Tamar Manesseh and Nortasha Stingley speak with Student FOI Captain Dwayne Muhammad of the Nation of Islam. In 2015 Ms. Stingley’s lost her 19-year-old daughter Marissa Boyd Stingley to gun violence. Ms. Stingley has turned her pain to progress and works in the community to try and prevent and curb violence. “I really feel that we need to stand up against this violence. We need to do more,” she said. Photo: Starla Muhammad

Tamar Manesseh, founder of MASK promises just that. At the end of the day, Chantell and Andrea were mothers, that is what should be remembered, she points out. 

While it would have been understandable if Ms. Manasseh took some time off or even gave up. She refuses. In fact, she is more determined than ever. Under her direction MASK recently opened “Peace of Pizza” in the Beverly neighborhood. Among other things, the eatery will provide training for young people to develop marketable employment skills. 

“This is my job, this is what I do. I love my people and I hope that I can teach them, show them so much love they’ll know how to love the next generation,” she told reporters during the ribbon cutting and grand opening held July 31. Community residents and nearby businessowners gathered to welcome Ms. Manesseh. 

Bonita Jefferson co-owns Beverly Hills Marketplace with her sister and was excited to welcome their new neighbors. “I think it’s a commendable endeavor they’re trying to do, trying to help reduce violence and to bring awareness to this issue of senseless violence,” she said. Ms. Jefferson currently lives in Beverly and is a native Chicagoan having lived in various parts of the city including the West, South and North sides. 

Memorial at the corner where Andrea Stoudemire, 35 and Chantell Grant, 26, were shot and killed July 26. Photo: Haroon Rajaee

“We know that violence is across the entire city and anyone that rises up to help prevent and to bring awareness of violence against anyone is commendable so I take my hat off to the Peace of Pizza owners as they’re trying to do something to change the lives of young people and to have a certain amount of their proceeds to go back to programming for education.”

Two days after the grand opening, Ms. Manesseh was “back on the block” at 75th and Stewart. 

Community groups and residents came by to offer their support including men from the Moorish Science Temple and the Fruit of Islam, men of the Nation of Islam. A young man approached with his two daughters offering to come and read to children in the neighborhood. In the background others were helping a few children make personalized aromatherapy socks. Another volunteer distributed cold bottles of water to passersby. 

Ms. Manesseh though visibly a bit tired, welcomed and spoke with everyone. “We’re in what used to be a vacant lot,” she told The Final Call. Now there are three rectangular storage structures with doors and windows that will soon become “The Block Academy,” explained Ms. Manesseh. 

Chantel Grant and Andrea Stoudemire, both mothers, were shot and killed on the very corner they tried to make safe. Photo: Mothers Against Senseless Killings / Facebook
“This right here is something unimaginable to them. Something as small as this is unimaginable that you can come here and there are people who just show up here every day and hang out and they don’t want anything from you. They don’t want any money. They don’t want you to do anything. They just want you to come here and live, that’s it. Just be, just interact with other women, other mothers, families that are out here, do things here that everybody else in this city gets to do but because we’re poor and we live here, we don’t get to do it,” she said passionately.

So often, neighborhoods like Englewood, Roseland, Lawndale and others exist inside of a bubble, explained Ms. Manesseh. “The rest of the world ignores the voices of the people here. They’re what happens here. I try to bring as much as what happens outside the bubble into the bubble. I try to expose these kids to as much stuff as I possibly can to kind of entice them out of the bubble one day.”

For example, MASK hosts “dog days” where dogs from a no kill shelter are brought to the area so children can play with them. It is very therapeutic for the children, she said. “We have circus camp. People from the Midnight Circus and other circuses come out here and do circus camp with the kids. We have people who are actors and actresses from different theatrical groups and troupes who come here and do those kind of classes with the kids,” said Ms. Manesseh.

“If a doctor said that they wanted to come and do an introduction to anatomy class out here, they can come here and do it. Anybody who feels that they have something that can hopefully open up the eyes of a kid around here, I let them come and do it. I want our kids to have imaginations and ambitions.”

That is what The Block Academy grew out of. A company called Benchmark Construction installed pillars, excavated the land and poured the concrete slab but everything else was done by the women of MASK, she said. They started building the structures in October of last year. MASK built the structures themselves and hope to be done in September. The academy will offer vocational, academic and GED courses for ages 14-30. “Basically, whatever young people want to learn, get 10 of them together and we’re going to teach it,” said Ms. Manesseh. 

The academy will also offer after school tutoring for younger children. “This is us teaching our children our way,” she said. The goal is for these types of academies to be replicated, explained Ms. Manesseh. 

“We don’t want this to just be the only one of its kind. We want Black people to know that this is something that we can do for us. This is what we can do for us! We can fundraise for everything else why can’t we fundraise to build this?”

Peace of Pizza is located at 1801 W. 95th Street and open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. For more information on how you can help, visit MASK Chicago on Facebook and The Block Academy at