Today’s ‘Harriet Tubman’

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Meet Ameena Matthews, a regular city girl who is troubled by the plight of violence and poverty that’s taken over some of the city’s meanest streets. Instead of sitting on the sidelines watching communities crumble as a result, she risks her l

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Meet Ameena Matthews, a regular city girl who is troubled by the plight of violence and poverty that’s taken over some of the city’s meanest streets. Instead of sitting on the sidelines watching communities crumble as a result, she risks her life to make a difference.

Matthews, or as a colleague Tio Hardiman describes her, “the 21st Century Harriet Tubman,” is an interrupter for anti-violcnce organization CeaseFire. It started nearly 11 years ago on the West Side and has spread to at least 16 communities throughout the state.

The organization’s “violence interrupters” take to the streets during non-conventional hours to help stave off violence.

“I didn’t ask for this. I was called to do this, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t like to see my people out here struggling and fighting each other. We try our best to get to them before it gets to that point. The times we can’t, we work very hard to make sure it doesn’t escalate,” Matthews told the Defender.

She’s also a co-star in the “Interrupters” critically-acclaimed documentary about the Chicago-based organization that leads anti-violence marches, does outreach work and conducts conflict mediation between gangs to ease tension.

Matthews coined “Interrupters” as a “real life documentary in a Black ghetto where hope isn’t lost.”

No stranger to the streets, Matthews is the daughter of former Chicago gang leader Jeff Fort. Before turning her life around decades ago, she was also in the life.

The former lifestyle gives her a unique perspective on the ills of the streets and how to effectively combat it. And, she show’s no mercy.

Her magnetic personality is the reason why her interruption attempts are successful.

“I want to deal with intensively before they cross that line and the police get to them. The police wants to make it seem like it’s a war on drugs on the streets of Chicago. It’s not. What the war is on is poverty and education. These young guys need education training. They need someone to stay on them. They need high school diplomas, not G.E.D.’s,” said Matthews.

Matthews is also passionate about other anti-violence organizations, including Al-Hafeez –– which means the “Protector.”

These streets need all the help it can get. We’re all in this together. If we all bring home the message that we are all brothers and sisters and we must stand together, we’ll be ok. One organization can’t do it all,” she said.

She credits her husband and women she’s come in contact with over the year for keeping her grounded.

“I’m so blessed. I’m so grateful that my husband is a good man and a giving brother. He’s much more patient than I am. I love him dearly,” she said through a smile.

“I stand on the shoulders of phenomenal women. One is a vice principal of a public school, two are Ob/Gyn and one is a psychologist. They’re all under age 38,” she said.

Matthews has been globetrotting the nation since hitting the big screen. She’s a sought-out speaker and is scheduled to speak in Nebraska Wednesday for a Black Studies program.

You can catch Ameena Matthews on Twitter: @AmeenaMatthews

Copyright 2012 Chicago Defender

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