I want to believe my community can once again be a place where children can draw pictures on sidewalks and seniors can it on their porches without risking their lives.
There are countless black people in this city who have the same desire.
They might not march in the streets, but they are the ones who still have faith in the village.
And they are the ones who see our humanity before they see our faults.
Most important, they are the ones who make it their business to provide work in the community — even for a man with red eyes in the middle of the day.
Thana Muhammad, an 81-year-old grandmother, was that woman, according to the people who knew her best.
A property owner, Muhammad, formerly known as Madeline Jean Chandler, took distressed buildings on the South Side and the West Side and turned them into comfortable, affordable housing.
And she did so with the help of workers many would reject.
“My mother was known to work with local help,” said her daughter, Ashanti Chimurenga, a longtime human rights activist. “She would take someone who was sitting under a tree and would match the work to his skills.”
On June 10, Muhammad was found dead in her home at 100th and Forest. Her body had been cut up, the remains stuffed in two storage bins in the basement of her home, which she recently had moved back to.
The murdered woman’s car, a 2012 Honda Accord, was found a week later on the West Side, but her purse has not been found.
A $20,000 cash reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest in his horrendous crime.
“We are afraid that someone abused my mother’s trust,” said her grieving daughter.
Muhammad did a complete gut rehab of a four-story greystone at 15th and Homan and rehabbed a greystone in Bronzeville 20 years ago that won landmark status and recently was sold.
“My mother’s units remained under $1,000 per month for three bedrooms with hardwood floors and washer and dryer,” Chimurenga said.
A member of the Nation of Islam, Muhammad lived what she believed.
That was life-changing for the people she helped get back on their feet.
“Many times, I said to her, ‘Let’s get traditional workers because, when you are meeting people in alleys and on the street, you are vulnerable,’ ” her daughter said.
“I remember her response: ‘Don’t ask me to live my life in fear.’ ”
Muhammad continued to put her trust in her beloved community. That trust was broken in a way that puts the black community to shame.
It is heartbreaking that Muhammad made a conscious effort to uplift the fallen in her community and yet someone within the community took her life.
The only comfort is that some of the people Muhammad helped are now helping Chimurenga pass out flyers about her mother’s murder.
I reached out to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan but did not get a response.
Richard Muhammad, editor-in-chief of Final Call, the religious organization’s official newspaper, said it has done several stories about the murder.
“Brothers from the Fruit of Islam have stood with the family at a press conference in front of Mosque Maryam and in front of the family home,” Muhammad told me. “Essentially, we are calling on the community to come together. This is something that the minister has been doing forever — calling on us to deal with the institutional racism that we have faced but also to make our communities safer and a decent place to live.”
Even as she seeks justice for her mother, Chimurenga is hoping her death might help lead to broader dialogue about how to keep seniors safe in their own neighborhoods.
The macabre murder is likely to cause many people, especially seniors, to retreat even further behind bolted doors. That’s not something Chimurenga wants to be her mother’s legacy.
“How do we remain safe without becoming afraid of ourselves and without being that village that we helped to sustain?” she said. “This is how people have survived and how food got on the table.”
As the Bible says, Muhammad was a woman whose “own works praise her in the gates.”
“Now, my mother has been ripped away in the most atrocious manner,” her daughter said. “We need this city to give back to my mom.”
The family of Thana Muhammad is trying to distribute 30,000 flyers in targeted areas. Please call (224) 678-5001 for more information.
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