Violence brings moms together

by Annie Sweeney and Tara Malone (Chicago Tribune)
October 29, 2009

momstogether

Lucia Escamilla, a mother of three boys from a neighborhood that has buried many young men, often worried about losing her son to violence.

A year and a half ago, she found her way into a Southwest Side church basement and joined a group of mothers who are struggling with the same thing — deadly streets that can snatch a child from your grip, perhaps when he joins a gang or goes to jail.

Or when he is killed, as in Escamilla’s case.

Escamilla’s son, Gamaliel Toscano, 17, was fatally shot last week as he walked home from Tilden High School in his Back of the Yards neighborhood.

Police are still trying to figure out who shot the teen and why. He was the apparent target of the shooting Oct. 22 near 47th Street and Racine Avenue.

Later that night, several other mothers from the group — they call themselves Madres por la Paz, or Mothers for Peace — gathered at Escamilla’s home to sit with her as she made arrangements to bury her son.

They were there again Tuesday night when the community came out to mourn at his visitation and funeral. Escamilla, an ice cream vendor in the neighborhood, greeted mourners before the Mass in her son’s honor.

After burying her son Wednesday, Escamilla said she will return to the meetings at the church, so she can offer the same kind of support the other mothers have given her during this terribly confusing time for her.

Her son was not doing harm to anyone, she said. He was still deciding what to do with his life, a young man who liked to cook so much that he stood by her side in the kitchen as she prepared chicken meals for the family.

“More than anything, I want people to see this and know to take good care of their children,” she said in Spanish.

But healing can be a complicated journey — especially given how quickly parents can be blamed when their children are snared in street violence. These are women who often must work outside the home and struggle to keep as close a watch on their children as possible.

“Mothers suffer in silence,” said Lisa Rivera, who attends the meetings and whose son is in jail. “Mothers don’t have the luxury of judging their kids the way others do. We love unconditionally.”

Madres por la Paz welcomes any mother concerned about violence, no matter their vantage point.

The meetings have attracted up to 20 women, but there is a core group of 12 to 15 who attend regularly. Since mothers of both victims and offenders gather together, there is sometimes a “fine line” to tread, Rivera said. Most of them are mothers of sons, but there have been women who bring worries about daughters as well.

Madres por la Paz organized out of community groups in the Back of the Yards. It has grown to include mothers from the Bridgeport and Gage Park neighborhoods.

“A lot of these moms are good moms — they just don’t know what to do,” said Oscar Contreras, who has worked with several community groups and brought Madres por la Paz together.

Contreras said a handful of the moms have sons in gangs; other teens are hanging out with the wrong crowd.

A meeting typically starts by creating a “peace circle.” A prayer or poem is read, and then the mothers share whatever is on their minds, said the Rev. Dave Kelly, who helps run the meetings at the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, a community center.

Women share specific worries, Kelly said, but the group often turns to larger questions about violence in the community. And while there are both moms whose kids have been killed and others who have children who turned to violence, the conversation keeps going, Kelly said.

There is no judgment, he said.

“It’s amazing to see moms come together on just the value of loving your kid,” Kelly said. “These moms are very committed to their communities.”

Armenia Rodriguez, 37, joined the group after she saw her 18-year-old son hanging with a new, thuggish crowd. Gang signs suddenly turned up on his notebooks. Then last summer, her son was jumped and beaten up. Since joining the group, she has found a place where people understand how hard it is to fight the lure of the streets and how much it hurts to be blamed.

“We’re all connected in a way because we are trying to do what we can to better the lives of our kids,” she said. “You know you’re a good mom. Then society wants to say you’re not.”

As visitation for Escamilla’s son drew to a close Tuesday night and the last of the visitors made their way to the front of the altar, she stood at the head of his casket, stroking his hair.

Children wailed in the Southwest Side church. They leaned on pillars and each other for support.

Escamilla’s support also was there. Maria Chavez, her neighbor and a member of the group, stood to her left at the casket. Ahead of her was Rivera, Rodriguez and other mothers, making their way to the casket. During the service, the mothers sat together a few rows behind Escamilla. Afterward, they seemed spent, devastated by having to watch her mourning.

More than one said they realized how easily it could be them standing beside the casket. “We’re all very sad,” Rivera said after the service. “She (is) a great mom. It’s the environment and climate of hopelessness among these kids.”

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1 Comment for “Violence brings moms together”

  1. frances

    TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN IAM DIEING INSIDE BECAUSE OF THE STREET LIFE MY SON CHOOSE TO LIVE. HES ONLY 21 AND JUST TOOK A DEAL FOR 25 YEARS THE LIFE THAT WAS TAKEN OF A YOUNG MAN MAY HE REST IN PEACE.AND OLDER HOMIE TOOK MY SON UNDER HES ARM AT 17 YEARS OLD AND PUT HIM TO WORK TO DO ALL THE DIRTY FOR HIM HE WAS ON HIS WAY TO THE U.S.M.C BUT THAT DIDNT HAPPEN BECAUSE HIS OLDER HOMIE NAMED DOWNER WORE A WIRE TO SAVE HIM TURNED IN ALL THE YOUTH HE HAD SO CALLED YOUNG HOMIES AND A WIRETAPE MY SON THE WRONG PLACE AT THE TIME.HE HAS THREE KIDS 1 2 3 GOD PLEASE HELP ME.PLEASE FORGIVE HIM THE STREETS ARE SO EVIL…….

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