Recounting some of the violent acts committed against and by African American youth in the last several months, including the killing of her nephew David Branch, Wendy Weaver said she and Cathy Key, Mr. Branch’s mother, wanted to take a public stand against violence. The two founded MOMs Saving Our Sons, whose mission is “to improve the quality of life for African American males in the Evanston community by mentoring youth, strengthening family structure, improving social, economic, spiritual and educational conditions that affect the African American male.”
Ms. Key said she thought MOMS SOS would be “something good” that could come out of the tragedy of her son’s death.
“Evanston, it’s time to work together. Don’t become so adjusted to violence in our community [that we take it for granted]. We do not want to see another death or violent act in our community,” Ms. Weaver said.
The two women said they hope the community will join their anti-violence stance and say “Enough is enough.”
About 15 people attended this second meeting of MOMS SOS, held on Feb. 24 at the Hill Education building to identify ways to address the violence that threatens many – and has already killed some – of those mothers’ sons.
Reverend Clarence Weaver said he and others would help “identify mentors … so from a male perspective we can help mentor kids. … We don’t want to see them go off to prison or continue down a path that is destructive for them. … There are a lot of issues that have no zip codes. Individuals without the right mindset will go back to what they did last year.” He added that at times a person outside the family can say things that reinforce a parent’s values.
Sherry Walker described how her son, Ronald, was shot 15 years ago on Church Street and Dodge Avenue in a case of mistaken identity. She is a frequent speaker against violence and works with victim-impact panels in the Cook County court system. “I hope you won’t experience what a lot of mothers have experience,” she told the audience.
“My son has fears about being out at night, even being in the neighborhood,” one woman said.
Another said she was “frustrated with the City of Evanston, because there is no place for our children to go. Nine times out of 10, our children are roaming the street, trying to find a place to go where they can have fun and be in a safe environment.”
Scott Rochelle, who said he moved back to Evanston four years ago, said Ronald Walker “was the first friend I lost, [but] unfortunately, not the last. I left Evanston looking for black male leadership and went to Morehouse College. I’ve come back, and nothing has changed.”
Pamela Sims, middle-school teacher in the Chicago Public School system, said, “One thing that has not changed, that I see, is the hopelessness and helplessness of students who lose their way. When you see that attitude, it’s like pulling teeth to get [students] to change. This is 2011; there should be no reason someone drops out of eighth grade. So … I see the sixth-graders and seventh-graders who don’t want to try because it’s not cool and who are not prepared because no one’s at home. … It’s got to [become] cool to look beyond [the present]. You can come for education, but I can’t make you learn if you don’t care to – and that hurts.”
Lonnie Wilson said he thinks there are two main problems: modeling and relative isolation. “The black male model in the street is Mr. Cool. For more than 50 years, we’ve done a bad job of showing the right model. We do a bad job in this community of turning [antisocial] influences off. [Second], we are not the group that is networked and economically connected. Some kids are not college material; we need to find them jobs. … one little corner of Evanston has been frozen in time.”
He added, “Gang members are just as tired as we are. [They feel] ‘I won’t sell dope if I can get a job.’”
Some attendees promised help. Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl came to the meeting, she said, to learn. She and Sabina Moran of the City Manager’s office offered help and involvement from the City.
Brian Smith, who said he would lead the mentoring efforts, including screening potential mentors, said, “We stand with the MOMS.”
Hycel Taylor, retired pastor of Second Baptist Church, said, “We see what slavery has done to us to make slaves of each other. … We need some old folks and some young folks to stop acting like children and take charge.” Recounting an example of a youth he mentored, he said that the community should be “tough” on youth. They “need to know that someone cares enough about them to make them act civilly.”
To the MOMS he said, “You are not victims; you are mothers of great men, fallen soldiers [in the battle against violence.” He added that he thought the MOMS and the Evanston community could come up with a plan to stop violence that would be a model for other cities. “Moms have power,” he said, “Boys, men … are scared of you.”
In conjunction with Peaceable Cities Evanston, the City of Evanston and other community groups, MOMs SOS is planning a rally to kick off an anti-violence campaign. The tentative date is April 9.