Violence interrupter speaks at Malcolm X Festival

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March 9th, 2012

Omaha, NE – A violence interrupter spoke at the University of Nebraska Omaha’s annual Malcolm X Festival Thursday.

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Ameena Fort-Matthews addressed a crowd of people on Thursday at UNO’s student center. (Photo by Angel Martin)

Ameena Fort-Matthews is a violence interrupter for CeaseFire, a not-for profit program in Chicago that views violence as a disease that spreads throughout the community and needs to be “interrupted” to stop the cycle.

“All the young guys and girls need is an opportunity to pull their own selves up by their bootstraps…that’s it,” she told a crowd at UNO’s Student Center.

No stranger to the streets, Fort-Matthews grew up in Chicago, and is the daughter of infamous Chicago mob boss Jeff Fort. She said by the time she was a teenager, she was hustling with a gang of guys.

“There’s guys and girls, and I was one of them, that felt like in order to protect your neighborhood it’s just like, hell, we’re in Afghanistan and our streets is a war zone and that we got to protect it,” she said.

“That’s what these young guys and girls are feeling…that they are protecting whatever it is at they are protecting.”

CeaseFire has been operating in Chicago for 15 years. With the assistance of former gang members and street hustlers like Fort-Matthews, the group aims to stop the spread of gun violence using mediation techniques. Their work was highlighted in the documentary The Interrupters, which aired in Omaha last summer. It showed them stepping in to some dangerous situations – talking down gang members and working with them to prevent retaliations.

“What I’m trying to get them to understand is that you don’t have to kill anybody to resolve a conflict and to get them to change their mindset on how they think about violence,” she said.

Fort-Matthews said when a poor teenager, without insurance, is shot and sent to the hospital, family, friends and tax payers are all impacted. She said when addressing gun violence in the community we have to connect the dots, listen and work together.

“We can’t get away from the way that our grandparents and great grandparents raised us,” she said. We have to come together, she said.

“If God doesn’t give it to us we’re not going to have it. Of course we got to work for it, but we can’t lose hope.”

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