On any given evening in Englewood, among the city’s 10 highest-crime neighborhoods, there is the potential for violence.
And on any given evening in Englewood, on the corner of 75th and Stewart, there are the Mothers Against Senseless Killings, also known as M.A.S.K.
But more and more, on any given evening, there are white mothers, Latino mothers and Arab mothers, responding to the call to help create a sense of community.
“I think it’s important for all of us as U.S. citizens to be contributors,” said Dilnaz Waraich of Morton Grove, a Muslim woman who came with her son, Fawleh, 15, on a recent night to help M.A.S.K. with their nightly summer barbecue.
“It is my responsibility to help my children, my community, to understand we could have been placed on that block. It could be us dealing with the violence,” she said. “When you are blessed, you must go back, help others.”
Creating community is what M.A.S.K. has been about since a handful of women first set up their folding chairs and sat on the corner after the killing of a 34-year-old woman by a gang member’s stray bullet on June 23, 2015.
It became a nightly routine, with a tent, barbecue grills, hamburgers and hot dogs. The fellowship draws people out of homes, where they had previously hunkered down.
Successfully averting shootings on the block last summer, the group made national headlines and appeared on TV talk shows and cable news with their simple premise.
“I found out about them through Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and wanted to help,” said Laura Frisch, also of Morton Grove, who drove down to Englewood to help with the barbecue twice this month.
“There’s a Hebrew term, Tikkun olam, which means to repair the world,” said Frisch, who is Jewish. “The world is broken. You can fix it through large acts and through small acts. I have this penchant to want to fix it.”
M.A.S.K. has grown, with a website and a Facebook page. They took on several blocks during spring break for city schools and then put out a call for help this summer. Help has come from all corners, from volunteers bringing food.
“I have always been a champion of people helping people, and especially mothers getting involved in their community. It’s just so wonderful that this group of moms is standing together and trying to make a difference,” said the Rev. Elizabeth Jones, of Evanston, who also has driven to Englewood twice this month.
“The violence horrifies me. This is an opportunity to show the Englewood neighborhood that we are all one family,” added Jones.
On a recent night, Frisch brought a face-painting booth and painted faces for nearly three hours. Waraich’s son, Fawleh, was surrounded by a gaggle of kids blowing bubbles and drawing sidewalk chalk art. Jones chatted and laughed with young and old.
“Since we’re unfunded, we can only do this because we get donations from people, and this year, we’re getting a lot of people who aren’t just donating money, they’re getting in their cars and bringing food,” said M.A.S.K. founder Tamar Manassah.
“And they’re not just dropping the food off. They’re actually bringing lawn chairs and becoming a part of the lives of the community here. We might be separated by class, by race, by geographical location or ZIP code. But one thing that connects us all is that we have children, and we love them, and want to see them survive.”