Renee Prince and Kenyotta Willis
Renee Prince and Kenyotta Willis share a day together and their thoughts on motherhood. [Photo by Sophia Nahli Allison]

Text by Latricia Polk
Photographs by Sophia Nahli Allison

Renee Prince’s favorite pastime is hanging out with her daughter, Kenyotta Willis. The mother and daughter giggle as they walk down the street in Uptown on a recent weekday. In recognition of Mother’s Day, The Chicago Reporter interviewed Prince and Willis and several mothers from different backgrounds and neighborhoods. We asked them, “What does motherhood mean to you?” From hanging out with her child to mourning the death of a child, each woman’s experience of motherhood is unique.


‘A mother is a gift from God’

Phyllis Duncan

Phyllis Duncan, 55, five children, founder of Mothers of Murdered Sons, Bellwood
“I think being a mother is a gift from God, and I didn’t take it lightly. My son, Dodavah Duncan, was a victim to gun violence in 2005. He was murdered a day after Mother’s Day. My son was the only boy and the baby. I was so happy that God finally gave me a son because I had all girls. I raised him, and I’m a single parent. I was trying to make sure he didn’t become a statistic, which he ended up becoming. He was a beautiful young man, and I was blessed to have him for those 21 years.”


‘The Mother of Bronzeville’

Margo Strotter

Margo Strotter, 59, two children, owner of Ain’t She Sweet Cafe, Beverly
“I’ve been told I’m ‘The Mother of Bronzeville,’ and it’s OK. I take pride in being able to employ the people who live in the community. I try to provide an ambient atmosphere where people can come in, sit down and relax and eat their food. I was raised that way. When I was growing up you sit down at the table and eat your food. … So I love what I do, I’m happy here. Being a mom is a tremendous experience. I aspire for my daughters to understand the importance of doing it for themselves and being their own boss. I want them to be able to take care of them and live a good life.”


Leading by example

Crystal Williams

Crystal Williams, 26, two children, Logan Square
“Motherhood for me is being an example, having your children looking up to you and leading by example. I’m nurturing and loving toward my children. … I didn’t know how much patience you have to gain being a parent. I expected it to be a lot of work, but I never had patience before [I had] kids.”


A love … like coffee

Sonya West

Sonya West, 42, six children, North Lawndale
“It’s about love and communication. Two of my kids passed away in 2011, and their death was six months apart. My 13-year-old son passed away from chronic asthma. He went into an asthma coma and never came out, and my other son, Emandrell Crum, was murdered on the corner of 13th and Kedzie. He was 23. It hurts losing two kids because no one can ever say they know how you feel if they haven’t lost a child. But during that time, I was incarcerated. And it broke my relationship with my other kids because I couldn’t be there for them. Now, our relationship has been restored. They opened up to me and we talk about everything. We have an amazing bond. I love my kids. I love them like coffee, and I’m a coffee drinker.”


‘It’s about spending time with each other’

Renee Prince and Kenyotta Willis

Renee Prince, 50, one child, the South Side
“It’s about being there for my mom, daughter and granddaughter. They mean the world to me. I’m just leaving the hospital because my mom is down in her health right now. So it’s about spending time with each other. One of my fun memories I have with my daughter is when she was 7-years-old and I taught her how to play cards and dominoes. We’re some card players. It’s about the fun things that we get to do.”

Kenyotta Willis, 29, one child, the South Side
“[Motherhood] taught me how to be a friend and a mentor to my daughter, Kearie Ross, who is 8-years-old, but acts like she’s 80. I taught her how to be responsible and warned her about stranger danger. And I also taught her that she can be anything she wants to be in life.’’


‘We should celebrate it every day’

Maricella Onafre

Maricella Onofre, 43, two children, Pilsen
“I am originally from Mexico. I like my city, Chicago. We work to make something better for our family, for my children, who are very important to us. I love my children a lot. Mother’s Day is a very special day and we should celebrate it every day. In Mexico, there is more of a focus on culture, value, and tradition. Here the people are busy because they are always working. Here you give flowers, in Mexico you don’t. Here you give presents. In Mexico, you don’t.”


‘I wanted to raise independent children’

Donna Brooks Lucas

Donna Brooks Lucas, 59, two children, CEO of DBL Multi-Media Group, Winnetka
Being a mother and seeing my children succeed makes me happy and joyous. My son is in college and it’s exciting to see how much he has grown every year when he comes home. He just came back from Europe, so he really has amazing insight now that he didn’t have before. And that was my desire. I wanted to raise independent children who know what they wanted to do.’’


‘Accepting your children for who they are’

Towanna Virgil

Towanna Virgil, 43, two children, the South Side
“It’s a lot of caring, giving and accepting your children for who they are. My daughter suffers from depression. When I was incarcerated for four months, I felt like I had abandoned her because I wasn’t there. She had stopped taking her medicines and dropped out of high school. Now, I’m home and we’re communicating and hanging out more.’’