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Amid tragedy for anti-violence group, grand opening of its pizza restaurant goes on

Some profits from Peace of Pizza will support Mothers/Men Against Senseless Killings, but anticipation turned to heartbreak after two group members were killed Friday in a drive-by shooting.

Mothers/Men Against Senseless Killings is continuing with plans for Wednesday’s grand opening of Peace of Pizza, 1801 W. 95th St.
Manny Ramos

It’s been a tumultuous couple of weeks for the anti-violence group known as Mothers/Men Against Senseless Killings or, simply, MASK.

But the group remains committed to improving the Gresham community with the grand opening of its restaurant, Peace of Pizza, 1801 W. 95th St., on Wednesday evening.

“I was in line at Lowe’s around 6 a.m., as soon as they opened, getting materials for the final touches on the restaurant,” said MASK founder Tamar Manasseh.

Tamar Manasseh (left), founder of MASK, speaks with a young cashier while food and drinks are given out.
Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

“If I’m being honest, though, I haven’t been able to sleep at all with everything that has been going on.”

Excitement over the soft opening of the restaurant — some of the profits will go to support MASK — turned into dismay when Metra construction shut down their street, forcing them to close the restaurant for almost 10 days.

Manasseh said the business lost more than $13,000 after the street was closed. Shortly after, Manasseh said, the restaurant’s freezer went bad, pushing the organization another $2,000 in the hole.

Then on Friday, two mothers that helped MASK in its efforts to curb gun violence were slain in a drive-by shooting.

It happened in Gresham, at 75th Street and Stewart Avenue, on the same corner where the organization is based.

“I don’t know if I am even coping properly,” Manasseh said. “There is still just so much going on.”

More than 100 people showed up early for the grand opening Wednesday afternoon of Peace of Pizza.
Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

Regardless of the turmoil, the grand opening Wednesday welcomed more than 100 people within the first hour — all looking to try a piece of pizza. Music blasted as folks chatted over refreshments.

Those conversations, however, often would slip back into the organization’s recent troubles.

JoAnn Echols, a longtime resident of Beverly, said she was excited to try the new pizza.

“I love their pizza,” Echols said during the grand opening. “This is an awesome thing that somebody would do this. We need more people like her that’s willing to open up a business with the purpose of bettering her community.”

“I applaud her,” she added.

Bonita Jefferson (right) and her sister, Robbie Perez, are inside Jefferson’s antique store, which neighbors Peace of Pizza.
Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

Bonita Jefferson, owner of the next door Beverly Hills Marketplace, said she hopes the Beverly business community shows its full support for Peace of Pizza in its efforts to better the corner of 75th Street and Stewart Avenue.

“There are people putting their lives on the line like this young women,” Jefferson said about Manasseh. “Violence affects us all regardless of where we are at in the city, so all the businesses in Beverly needs to support [Peace of Pizza].”

Chicago police are still investigating the slayings of Chantell Grant and Andrea Stoudemire, but no one was in custody Wednesday evening, said Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.

A police POD camera on the corner where the women were killed was not working during the time of the shooting, but footage from private cameras along the vehicle’s path of travel has produced strong leads, Guglielmi said.

MASK has also raised over $19,000 through a GoFundMe campaign; the money will be offered as a reward to anyone who has information about the shooting that brings the killers to justice.

JoAnn Echols (center) meets up with young people outside the grand opening of Peace of Pizza on Wednesday.
Manny Ramos

Manny Ramos is a corps member of Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side.