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Meet Monalisa Smith of Mothers for Justice and Equality in Roxbury

Today we’d like to introduce you to Monalisa Smith.

Monalisa, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I founded MJE in 2010 following the loss of my nephew to urban violence and through a “call to action,” I gathered fellow mothers, many of whom were also suffering the loss of a child to violence, to share their concern with the gross amount of violence against children occurring within our neighborhoods. Prior to founding MJE, I served as State Director of Community Investment for Citizens Bank, in Boston Massachusetts. My corporate background has been able to help drive this movement of mothers looking to put an end to youth violence within their neighborhoods. I am also a local civic leader and serve my community in Boston by serving on the governing board of the Black Ministerial Alliance and Boston Higher Ground. Since its founding, Mothers for Justice and Equality has humanized homicide statistics through the sharing of personal stories in various media forms throughout Boston, established Monthly Empowerment Meetings and has engaged hundreds of local people in marches and rallies in support of the cause. MJE has also partnered with the City of Boston Public Health Commission in creating their first Mothers Watch Circle which advises the Defending Childhood Initiative, and has impressed upon Governor Deval Patrick the urgency to addressing neighborhood violence. Accomplishments such as these have then allowed for MJE to receive the following awards: the Boston Business Journal’s Extraordinary Leadership Award, the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation’s Community Leadership Award, the Asian American Civic Association’s Community Leadership Award and the Boston Globe 100 innovation award.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I watched hopelessly as my niece suffer a painful loss of her only child (her son). The work of Mothers for Justice and Equality was to strategically engage the root cause of violence by empowering mothers who lost children to violence to be the voice of the change that was needed. Beyond, raising much-needed dollars to support this mission.

One of the most challenging aspects of the job was controlling your emotions. I needed to be focused on educating the mothers and myself to share our stories in a way that would touch the hearts of the listeners but led to real change in local and state policy that was hindering the well-being of our children’s productivity.

Mothers for Justice and Equality – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Mothers for Justice and Equality, a non-profit grassroots organization in Dorchester aimed to eliminate youth violence in Boston neighborhoods by bringing together families and communities through education and engagement. Mothers joined together to make it their mission to end neighborhood violence by empowering mothers and youth to become effective catalysts for change.

Mothers for Justice and Equality instills hope and purpose, and a sense of identity and pride in communities by building relationships with families that have lost loved ones, youth at risk for violence, formerly incarcerated the youth and leaders in the public and private sector.

Mothers for Justice and Equality stands in solidarity with those who have lost loved ones to violence, and those who share the vision of a world, in which violence is not normal or acceptable. Mothers for Justice and Equality combat root causes of violence – poverty, hopelessness, trauma – through programs including:

You Matter Personal Leadership,
Youth Peer Leadership,
Workforce Readiness,
Financial Literacy,
Violence Intervention,
Second Chance Restorative Justice Initiative
Healing Through the Arts.
peer to peer mentoring

I am most proud of the work we do with young mothers who are incarcerated. We help them to regain hope and purpose while creating a plan to re-enter their communities and re-establish their lives with their children and communities. Just seeing the women move from hopeless to hope in a matter of 8 weeks, gives hope.

What sets us apart is that we are involved in helping create change from within by basing our work on restorative justice principles that help individuals to forgive which results in personal and emotional healing. From this healing, we have our peer to peer mentor program. The women who successfully complete our program and have prospered become life coaches and mentors to incoming women. We believe there is no better person to mentor than someone who has lived and successfully moved on from the pain, suffering, and frustration the individual is facing.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
The proudest moment of my career was MJE receiving the Citizens Bank and NECN Champion in Action award. This honor provided MJE with an unrestricted grant and a 1year of media coverage on NECN. There were many applicants but MJE was recognized as a leader in its proactive approach to ending neighborhood violence. Our model is unique. To have two respected institutions understand is truly a proud moment.

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Image Credit:
Mothers for Justice and Equality

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