Dr. Ameena Matthews, a mother and wife, has dedicated her life and career as a community activist for peace building and social change. Raised by her single grandmother in one of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods, Dr. Matthews observed the dereliction caused by the epidemic of violence inflicted on the community. From that early exposure she committed herself to ending the mindset that violence is a normal behavior.
In 2006, Dr. Matthews joined Cure Violence-formerly known as Ceasefire, an award winning scientific public health model that has been proven to reduce shootings and homicides. Even prior to her work with Cure Violence as a Violence Interrupter, Ameena has promoted peace building through block and community center gatherings, and youth expression through the art of music, dance, and spoken word throughout her hometown South-Shore and Englewood neighborhoods For over ten years Ameena has used her experience and knowledge in her neighborhood, to seek out and build relationships with troubled youths who are susceptible to the social norms of violence that still exist on the streets.
As a highly specialized violence intervention expert, Dr. Ameena Mathews has developed her own anti-violence organization called Pause for Peace, which operates under the motto “Don’t Let 30 Seconds of Rage Change Your Life FOREVER”!” The organization places its focus on social change and social service programs that work to address and end violence in the lives of impoverished and underprivileged youth in some of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago. She trains her resource specialists and program staff to seek out funding models and sources that will aid in the instruction of youth participants. to continue this work. Additionally, she has help organize Pause for Peace summits that bring youth from the surrounding neighborhoods together to bring forth resolution to conflict. Dr. Matthews’ goal is to help youth recognize that killing someone is not the social norm, through love, compassion, and forgiveness training.
In 2009, Dr. Mathews became the subject of the International Emmy Award winning documentary called ‘The Interrupters’ which was produced by Steve James and co-produced by Alex Kotlowitz and Zak Piper. The documentary features her as a riveting Community Activist and Behavior Practitioner, while showing her loving and nurturing attributes. The documentary has won multiple awards and has been accepted at numerous film festivals, such as Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
The New York Times magazine awarded her with the top five performances in 2011 despite ‘The Interrupters’ being a documentary. That same year, she received the TedX Midwest Heroes Award presented by Illinois-Governor Quinn, the 2011 Malcolm X & Betty Shabazz Humanitarian Award, and was honored as the 2011 Chicagoan of the Year in addition to innumerable other awards and recognitions. Dr. Ameena Matthews has appeared on the local affiliates of every major television network, as well as CNN, BBC, Frontline, AlJazeera, The Huffington Post and HLN. She also has been interviewed by various National Public Radio personalities, covered in USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, The Chicago Redeye, Jet Magazine, The New York Times, and featured in the 2013 Essence Magazine Chicago Hope article. Dr. Ameena Matthews has also been a guest on The Colbert Report and The Jeff Probst Show. On October 16, 2013 Dr. Matthews received the 2013 Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Medal (Freedom from Fear). Past recipients of this prestigious medal include Presidents Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton, Senator Ted Kennedy, Secretary Hillary Clinton, Studs Terkel, Tom Brokaw, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Elie Wiesel, as well as international honorees Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi, Asma Jahangir, and Carlos Fuentes.
Today, Dr. Matthews is still in the trenches of Chicago’s neighborhoods working to strengthen the community so that the youth have the capacity to exercise formal social control and respond to issues in non-violent. With her faith and praise in Allah, Dr. Matthews’ goal is to maintain community engagement by establishing direct encounter techniques, such as, risk reduction and behavior modifications, to temper violent behavior. She credits her supportive and loving family, as well as her early life experiences, for inspiring her desire to educate and affect behavior modification, not only in Chicago but nationally and internationally.