Ameena Matthews

Ameena Matthews

Ameena Matthews is a community activist who was the subject of an Emmy Award-winning documentary.

Now, the Chicago native wants to serve in Congress.

Matthews, a former Beverly resident, is running in next year’s election as a Democrat for U.S. representative of the First Congressional District of Illinois, a position held by fellow Democrat Bobby Rush for 27 years.

Matthews announced her candidacy on June 25. Heavily critical of Rush, she said more needs to be done to make the district safe.

“Running for Congress for the First Congressional District, I want to make sure that public safety is the top priority,” Matthews said. “Economic development in the First District has been little or nothing.”

The primary election will be March 17, 2020, with the general election on Nov. 3.

The First District includes Morgan Park and parts of Beverly, including all of East Beverly and an area just north of 107th Street and Western Avenue. It spans from the Bronzeville neighborhood to south suburban Manhattan.

Matthews was born and raised in Chicago and now lives in Tinley Park. Positioning herself an activist who works for peace, she joined Cure Violence, a program formerly known as Ceasefire, in 2006.

In 2011, Matthews starred in “The Interrupters,” a documentary that highlighted her and other peacemakers in Chicago. It won an Emmy Award in 2013 for outstanding informational programming-long form.

Matthews and other women filed a lawsuit in 2018 alleging they were harassed and sexually abused while working with Cure Violence, which is based at the University of Illinois-Chicago. In April, the university’s office for access and equity said no violations were found.

Matthews left Cure Violence and helped organize Pause for Peace, which has a motto of “Don’t let 30 seconds of rage change your life forever.”

She said she did not continue her dispute with Cure Violence in part because she was battling leukemia.

Matthews’ campaign slogan is “The people’s movement,” and on her website, she said she grew up “in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago” and was raised by her single grandmother.

Deeply concerned about gun violence, she said her goal is “to help youth to understand that killing someone is not the social norm, through love, compassion, and forgiveness training.”

She said the First District has not received enough investment.

“I’m watching my community just still be dilapidated,” Matthews said. “I’m watching my young women go missing, and there’s nothing to be done for them to be found.”

Matthews has earned several awards in recent years. In 2011, she was named the Chicago Tribune’s Chicagoan of the Year in Film, and in 2013, she received a Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Medal, in the “Freedom from Fear” category, from the Roosevelt Institute, a non-profit partner to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in New York.

Matthews said more money needs to be invested in education and mental health.

Growing up, she said, police officers in her community got to know the residents they were serving, and teachers knew the “dynamics” of the environments in which students were living.

She worries those relationships aren’t as strong today, leading people to turn to violence.

“That’s been broken,” Matthews said. “Now, people feel like their backs are against the wall and they have to shoot themselves out. And I’m telling them as [their Congressional representative] that they don’t have to shoot themselves out.”

She also supports immigrants, saying the government should “help them become productive members of society” and not “snatch and separate” families—which she said causes trauma and adds to mental health issues.

Rush has served in Congress since 1992.

Last year, he did not face a challenger in the primary election, and he defeated Republican challenger Jimmy Lee Tillmann II and independent candidate Thomas Rudbeck in the general election. Rush earned about 73 percent of the vote, dominating in the 19th Ward with about 82 percent.

Matthews has also lived in southern states, but she “felt in my heart” that she needed to come back to the Chicago area.

She doesn’t believe Rush is doing enough to support his constituents, even remarking that “he should sit his ass down.”

“This is a beautiful city, and it deserves to be taken care of,” Matthews said. “And he’s not taking care of it.”

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