From her home at the corner of one of the most dangerous blocks in Chicago – Halsted and 63rd streets – Asiaha Butler is always on edge, praying for the safety of her teenage daughter and the other children in Englewood who are frequently in danger, always at risk for being in the path of flying bullets.
On a recent afternoon, 18-year-old Samaiya is home on Spring Break, calling Butler at the downtown real estate management office she works, eager for her mom to get home and escort her a block away to the library to research funding opportunities for college next Fall.
“Safety is a huge issue and I need to take her everywhere she goes,” says Butler, who has become a vital source of support for children in Englewood. “You’re always on pins and needles. It’s a psychological challenge as a mom living and trying to protect your kids in an environment where you are always hearing gun fire.”
Known as “Mrs. Englewood”, Butler believes that the key to transforming Englewood lies in the residents themselves. In 2007, she began engaging teenagers in the community by hosting free documentary films on weekends and holding discussions on how violence, low-income families and other social justice issues are portrayed in the media.
Word on Butler’s popular movie nights spread quickly. “People didn’t realize you could fill a room of teens by putting on a movie, giving them some popcorn and having a dialogue,” she says.
Growing up on the South Side, Butler is guided by her passion make a difference. When she and her husband just couldn’t take the danger anymore they made the wrenching decision to move away and join family and get a fresh start in Georgia. But, “I’m not a quitter, I just couldn’t leave and not do something to create change,” she says.
So, she rolled up her sleeves, and went door-to-door to mobilize residents and have them become the voice of the community. In 2011, she founded and currently is president of the Resident Association of Greater Englewood (RAGE), formed to encourage residents to take a more active role in the community and transform it for positive change. Five years later, the association boasts almost 200 active members.
A former winner of the EarthHeart Foundation’s Mother of Magnitude (MOM) award for outstanding service and peace building in Englewood, she truly is a mother who is a leader and role model for others.
“EarthHeart has made a tremendous impact on Englewood by creating a space where moms and their children can come together safely,” says Butler. “It’s one of the few opportunities moms can spend time with their children and be calm and peaceful, not worrying that they are in danger.”
She is on a mission.
“I use a simple formula: passion plus commitment times consistency minus doubt, multiplied by inspired action equals ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE,” says Butler, who is supervisor of Education Services for the Institute of Real Estate Management. She applies the business acumen and action-based strategy building skills she’s learned on the job to rally others to create change in Englewood.- organizing residents to get involved in local politics, to speak up.
“Our biggest challenge is the misconception of what others think about the residents of Englewood,” she says. “Most feel we are incapable of addressing and solving our own issues. Therefore, we have to be clear and sometimes provocative in our messaging in order to shift this narrative. While others talk negatively about our community, we have consistently shared the greatness that we observe on a daily basis in order to change the negative perception of this community.”