Mama Sheik (b. 1968, d. 1993): legendary girl gangsta.

Mama Sheik grew up in the Hillside Projects in Milwaukee, became the founder and queenpin of the Sheiks, a competitive kickboxer, one-time bank robber, businesswoman, and in her final incarnation - Midwestern drug empress.

For these latter occupations, and possibly because she was a flamboyant and glamorous black lesbian woman of forbidden power whose closet could have kicked Liberace's closet's ass, she is very unlikely to be featured on A&E Biography any time soon.

At 11, she was a bright, popular 7th grader. She organized a competitive girls' neighborhood dance team (which she called the Sheiks, because she liked the power and strength connoted in the word), was active in school athletics, and was a model student.

The Sheiks were street-dancers competing on urban streets and in ad hoc competitions. These competitions were gladiatorial, and judged by a public audience whose avidity and intensity was loud, and unforgiving. As for the rivalries - forget all the nasty looks rivals gave each other in classic films like Breakin' and Breakdance!. In the Sheiks' world, fighting for reputation's sake (and/or just to keep the cash prizes) meant real fights, real blows, real blood.

The Sheiks became expert enough at both dancing and fighting to develop a reputation for both: hence their gradual metamorphosis into a street gang. Mama (so called as their undisputed leader) had criteria for who could join:

  • athletic ability
  • demonstrated loyalty
  • grade point average (at least 2.0, respectable in an environment where focusing on grades was often neglected in favor of more pressing concerns, the average GPA was a dismal D+, and at an age where girls were frequently dropped out of school. Mama herself had a B average)
  • and a unique initiation: the new girl was required to start a fight with a man roughly 40 pounds heavier and several inches taller than herself. Presumably, winning or losing meant less than stepping up to the challenge of initiating combat.

At the same time that the Sheiks were beginning to coalesce around Mama Sheik's leadership, a pack of teenage boys began to terrorize her middle school. The boys eluded police for months, until Mama Sheik confronted three of them one day. She distracted, taunted, and threatened them into complete disorientation, until the police arrived. She was 12 years old, in 8th grade. For her bravery, she was given a letter from the Mayor, two complimentary tickets to the policeman's ball, and a citizenship award signed by the Milwaukee police chief.

Meanwhile, as the Sheiks' reputation grew, Mama had to answer more and more challenges (Bruce Lee eventually hired a cadre of bodyguards for the same reason, a luxury denied to this particular little girl). As a freshman at Bay View High School, she kept her grades and her fists high, was suspended repeatedly, and worked her way back into school each time.

Still, her police record grew exponentially. By the age of 16, she had been arrested and charged with assault,and carrying a concealed weapon. She brutally beat a girl who refused to chant a Sheik chant.She jumped with both feet on the head of another girl who she believed had slighted her. Mama Sheik believed that fear was respect. Violence led to fear, which led to respect. More responsibility led to the need for more respect, which was leading to more and more violence. The logic of the streets made all of these fights self-defense in Mama's mind - but only in hers.

At 17, she was finally sent to Lincoln Hills, a juvenile detention facility. Social workers were charmed by her upbeat attitude and charisma. She was given a job as a peer counselor after her release from Lincoln Hills. She wanted a new life, she said. A job. College. A new reputation.

Two months later, Mama Sheik and a friend robbed a bank at gunpoint. Armed robbery. Each woman was sentenced for six years. She was 18 years old.

A model inmate, Mama only served three years of her sentence. She had a letter of recommendation from the governor at her parole hearing, and a job as an anti-gang advocate waiting for her on the outside.

She went to schools in a mink beret, red suit, and cascades of gold chains. She was a celebrity. She was an idol to children in North Side. She spoke passionately and beautifully about staying out of gang life. She was interviewed on television, and for newspapers.

She was also becoming an active drug dealer. She hired former Sheiks for her new operations. She moved 2-3 kilos of cocaine a month, equivalent at that time to about $60,000. She laundered the money through a limo service, a men's clothing shop, a hair salon, and a bar. She gave generously to her extended family, neighbors, and friends.

December, 1993. Mama is out doing more over the top Christmas shopping. The house is already full of presents for her family, cash, and all of her possessions. Which the burglars must, she reasoned later, have known all about. Money was stolen from expertly hidden caches. Mama was stunned, furious, efficient. She quickly discovered the identities of the robbers (both addicts, fresh out of prison), recruited six shooters, and went to ambush the house where they were keeping her property. She took the position at the front door. The ensuing battle went badly, and Mama was killed in a confusion of gunfire.

She was 25.

Mama's funeral came a few days after Christmas, and was one of the biggest events in the memory of Milwaukee's North Side. She was buried in her favorite black and white leather suit, rings of gold and onyx, a giant gold medallion proclaiming "Sheik", her favorite full-length white mink coat, and a white mink cap.


Source: 8 Ball Chicks, by Gini Sikes, 1997.

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