For three years, I worked with moms on Chicago’s South Side. One of the projects I was assigned was to interview these mothers, who’d become my friends, to find out more about their experience. This is a compilation of their answers.

Sidenote: Together, we also worked on a Peace Mural project. It’s at 63rd and Wallace, across from the murder mansion from The Devil in the White City. All of our names are on a tile on the mural (pictured above).

What’s your story?

Liz: I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. My aunt raised me because my mother passed away from lupus when I was only one year old. I have an older brother and an older sister, and I have lots of cousins. I went to four different grammar schools while I was growing up, but they were all on the South Side. I was recently homeless for about a year and half. Within that year, I became pregnant with my third child. It was a tough time for me mentally and emotionally, but it made me who I am today.

Mose Mae: I was born in Jackson, Tennessee but I grew up in Chicago. I have nine siblings, and I am a mother of three. I have two boys and one girl, but my daughter passed away in 2006. I’m also a grandmother and a great-grandmother. Now I am raising my daughter’s son.
I am a volunteer worker at Dulles School of Excellence. I have been volunteering there for 6 years. I am also the Vice President of PACT and a member of the St. Titus Church. I like what I’m doing with my life. I like working with children and I like working with seniors.

Tenesha: I am a thirty-six year old mother of two children – one son, 19, and one daughter, 16. I also have one older sister who lives in St. Louis. I’ve lived in Woodlawn all my life. I attended Dulles Elementary School and James McCosh Elementary School, and I graduated 12th grade from Englewood Technical Prep Academy. I love basketball and tennis. I love going to Church, and I like to be around people – positive people.

Catonya: My name is Catonya and I am from the South Side of Chicago. I’m known as an Englewood mom, but I’ve lived in Woodlawn, Englewood, and other neighborhoods all over the South Side throughout my life. I am the mom of 4 kids. I love reading. I’ve been a member of MAP for 4 years, and I do a lot of community work. I was a chairperson at Harvard for almost 12 years, and I’m always active in events happening in my neighborhood.

Where do you think the problems in Englewood and Woodlawn stem from?

Liz: I think they stem from poverty and lack of education. A lot of people are uneducated on a lot of things. They’re stuck in a rut and they don’t know which way to go. They want a handout, but at the same time, they don’t want a hand out. It’s kind of like they’re stuck in the middle. We don’t have the right resources here in our community. We have to go outside of our community to get resources, and we often get turned down for being ineligible for being out of the area. When organizations turn you down because they say you don’t qualify, it kills your faith and your spirit, and a lot of anger comes out of it. People then begin to look for other things to fill that void, like alcohol and drugs. It’s a vicious cycle.

Mose Mae: The problems I see are drugs, gang banging, not enough activity for the young people to keep them out of trouble, not enough commitment from the organizations in Woodlawn, and not enough affordable housing for low-income people. Because the rent is so high, the young people have to do whatever they have to do to support their families – even if it’s wrong. But they need to pay their rent.

They have to sell drugs to make money to pay their rent because there’s not enough affordable housing. A lot of the money the city is putting out, they’re putting it in things that aren’t really necessary. They aren’t making programs for the young people to stay out of trouble, and there are not enough jobs for the teenagers. I believe that if we can get some centers in Woodlawn and some jobs in Woodlawn and some affordable housing, I think Woodlawn would be a better community, I really do.

Tenesha: I think they come from a lack of positive role models. It’s not just parenting, because as a parent, you can raise your child the best way you possibly can, but they still have outside influences. To me, it’s more coming from the streets. There are more problems on the streets than there are in the home. There is a lack of role models outside of the home, and sometimes in the home as well.

Catonya: It stems from the parents. There are lots of parents in denial and there are lots of parents that didnt like authority when they were younger. We had the village mentality when we were younger, where everyone took care of each other. Now there are more rebellious parents who get off on drugs, and their kids end up raising themselves. They have no upbringing and that causes a lot of chaos. The whole “family” part is just not there anymore. There’s angry parenting and theres’s kids who say “my mom says you can’t tell me what to do.” So the problems come from the parents.

How do you deal with violence in Chicago?

Liz: Violence occurs because people feel abandoned. We need to show them love. Love breaks all barriers. Love them no matter what type of anger they’ve built, because eventually they will break down. We need to find the source of the problems. You can catch drug dealers, but there will still be drugs on the street. People need to stop being scared and start disciplining children. You still have to continue to parent even when your child is over the age of 18. For me, because I have three young children, it’s about raising your child and having a faith-based background. Faith fills any void. I want to keep my kids active, and I try to keep them open. I want to give them experiences outside of our community and the violence that occurs, like taking them to the museum. Most people from our community haven’t even been to downtown Chicago. They have only been in their own neighborhood.

Mose Mae: A lot of times I cry when I hear about a young teenage boy or girl that gets killed. I pray. I do a lot of praying. And if I ever myself come across some money, I would put some of it back into Woodlawn. I would open up a center, something that would help these young people. It’s the young people that are keeping up all this violence. Because they don’t have anything to do but to get in trouble. I really hate it, I really hate it. I’m raising a grandson and if I could, I wouldn’t raise him in the city of Chicago. I would take him anywhere, somewhere. I would try hard not to make him come up in this fast life. Things weren’t like this when my boys grew up.

Tenesha: I am a member of a group called the Mother Ambassadors for Peace. I also help Officer Maddox at Parkway Gardens with teens and take them on trips to get them away from the community. We want them to experience something different outside of the normal daily routine they have. We take them to sporting events, basketball tournaments – anything to keep them involved and off the streets. We want them to experience something positive. I’m also a part of the Safe Passage program.

Catonya: There is no answer for that. There’s not really a way to deal with it, it’s here. You pray that nothing happens to you or your loved ones. I take 5 minutes to breathe and move past it.

What does being a mother mean to you?

Liz: Being a mom is the best thing that ever happened to me. My children saved me. I didn’t want kids, but when I had my first baby, it changed my whole perception. When you feel that first kick or hear that heartbeat, it’s such a joy to see that God trusts me with this life. It’s a privilege and it’s an honor.

Mose Mae: I like being a mom. I like supporting my children. I like being there for them, helping them solve problems, helping them with their education, and watching them grow up to become good, productive citizens. The work that I do, I can see it in them. I see my progress in them.

Tenesha: It means not being so selfish. It means giving of myself to my children – not just my children, but other children in the community as well who need it. There are children in our community who lack that motherly love and motherly bond. Being a mother means to help spread love to children, as well as adults, who may need it.

Catonya: That’s what I was put on Earth to do, or else I wouldn’t be here. That’s my purpose right now.

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