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Frances Sandoval Melendez

Founder, Mothers Against Gangs

Frances Sandoval Melendez was born in 1953 in the Trumbull Park area of Chicago, Illinois. She lived with her parents and three sisters, who were “the first Mexicans” to own a house in a mostly Jewish and Polish community. Frances grew up going to Catholic school and attended Saint Casimir’s, now known as Our Lady of Tepeyac. She started noticing inequality as young as at eight years old, when the nuns at her school called on and gave more positive attention to the white students than to her. Thus, Frances became aware of racism and inequality from an early age.

When she was very young, Frances married her first love and together they had a son named Arthur. After the birth of Arthur, Frances returned to school to get her GED. She felt inspired to bring her children a better life and future, so she went on to Luke College.

In 1982, Frances was working at Legal Assistance in downtown Chicago when she received a call from Juan Soliz, the director of the Immigration Project at Legal Assistance. She accepted his invitation to help organize his campaign for state representative and coordinated a petition drive for Soliz’s campaign. After helping Juan Soliz campaign as an independent candidate for Illinois state representative in 1982, Frances became Soliz’s campaign manager. This was when Juan Soliz won against Vito Marzulo and became the first Latino state representative in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1985 Frances worked as Soliz’s campaign manager to help elect him as Alderman in Chicago, and he won. Soliz served one term as Alderman, and Frances was his assistant.

Tragically, Frances’ son Arthur was murdered this same year while attempting to save his friend’s younger sister from being kidnapped by Juan Lopez Rojo and his fellow gang member.

In response to lack of legal or police action regarding her son’s murder, Frances contacted news affairs and held a press conference at her house, publicly offering a reward for any information leading to the arrest of her son’s murder. Following Frances’ media outcry she received numerous emotional phone calls from mothers of victims of gang violence expressing their painful stories. She noticed how many of these victims’ voices were unheard and hadn’t received justice, and how there were absolutely no support groups for mothers and families of victims of gang violence throughout the entire U.S. Thus, Frances was inspired to form Mothers Against Gangs (MAG) as the very first organization of its kind to provide mental, emotional, and legal support for mothers and families of victims of gang violence.

MAG received seed money from President Ronald Reagan’s office to make pamphlets and educational pieces to spread awareness for victims of gang violence about victim assistance programs. They also helped communities become aware of gang activity and recruitment. As it gained more members and publicity, MAG began to form additional chapters nationwide. Throughout the 1980’s, MAG also reached out to children by holding educational assemblies at elementary, middle, and high schools. Offshoots of MAG were formed, such as Parents Against Gangs, Neighbors Against Gangs, and Communities Against Gangs.

During the 1990’s, Frances began her efforts for national legislation to combat gang violence. She did this by focusing on working to change policies and legislations and to work for truth in sentencing.

The continuation of Frances’ work in political and social justice is still seen in her participation in campaigning for Jesus Chuy Garcia for mayor of Chicago in 2015.

She is now retired in Florida.