Black History Spotlight

Ameena Matthews

Ameena MatthewsMother and wife Ameena Matthews has dedicated her life and career to peace building and social change. She has worked for six years with the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention's Ceasfire Program in the University of Illinois at Chicago's School of Public Health. Matthews is a Senior Violence Interrupter whose job is to mediate conflict on the front end to stop the transmission of violence from one person to another. She and two of her co-workers are the subjects of an award winning documentary titled "The Interrupters." The film features her as a riveting community activist while showing her loving and nurturing attributes. The film has been accepted in many film festivals and won honors at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah where Matthews had the honor of sharing the experience with her family. She has appeared on every major television network, CNN, BBC, Frontline and HLN. She has been interviewed by National Public Radio, USA Today, Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, Jet Magazine, New York Times and others. In 2011, Matthews received the TedX Midwest Heroes Award presented by Illinois Governor Quinn and was honored as the 2011 Chicagoan of the Year. In February of this year she was a guest on the Colbert Report.

Matthews was raised in one of Chicago's tougher neighborhoods by her grandmother. She is the daughter of Jeff Fort who until his conviction in the 1980s was a leader of the El Rukn gang. After some gang-affiliated years of her own, she went straight. Raised as Muslim, she began practicing her religion and started promoting peace building through the art of music, dance and spoken word. Once Matthews began working with Ceasefire, she became involved in mediation after being called to assist with two brothers who attended Leo High School. One of the brothers got into a fight with a student inside the school who took his money and gym shoes. The mother called Tio Hardiman, Director of Ceasefire and said she needed help; her son was planning to go to school with a weapon to get his brother shoes back. Tio dispatched James Highsmith, who asked for Ameena's help. "We worked hard and resolved that conflict which would have lead to a death. I got the young man out of Chicago and he is now a graduate of Morehouse College with a major in Criminal Justice."

Matthews says "I don't feel like violence interruption is a job, I feel it's my purpose. I didn't know better so I didn't do better coming up. Once I learned better and started doing better, it was my call to duty to educate and reach out to my young brothers and sisters all over. For my children to hear the news that a young person is missing or has been shot, and ask Umma(mom) aren't you gonna do something? That makes me happy. My children look at me as a cool mom and are proud to be my children. My husband did not know what a violence interrupter's job duties meant and how dangerous it was. He was and is still worried about his wife, but he is on board 100%. The love we have for one another makes us both understand each other's life purpose is to be of service."


back to the U I C Homepage

Copyright © 2011 The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
Contact the Webmaster