‘You are going to see a renaissance’: New coalition rises to broker a ceasefire in Philly

Gun violence dropped dramatically after West Philly’s House of Umoja brokered a ceasefire in 1974. The organization’s matriarch says it’s time for a new treaty.

Tommy Joshua Kaison speaks at the “Return to Peace in the Streets” press conference. (Tennyson Donyéa/WHYY)

Tommy Joshua Kaison speaks at the “Return to Peace in the Streets” press conference. (Tennyson Donyéa/WHYY)

It’s been nearly 50 years since the original Imani Peace Pact helped transform Philadelphia neighborhoods. The truce, brokered in 1974 by the community organization and youth shelter, House of Umoja, effectively created a ceasefire agreement between 30 street gangs in the city. Gun violence dropped dramatically over the next few years.

With Philadelphia on pace to have more than 500 people murdered in 2021, Queen Mother Falaka Fattah, who is named after continental African tradition, said it’s time for a new treaty.

On Sunday, nearly a dozen community members gathered outside the House of Umoja, located at 5625 West Master Street, as Fattah once again called for a ceasefire. Some former gang members who were at the original meeting attended once again. Attendees wore green ribbons to symbolize “youth” and “the land.”

“We are coming to a critical mass, where you hear from … different layers of the community, that they’re hurting, they’re in pain, and they want this to stop,” Fattah said on her recent decision to reignite the original crusade she launched with her late husband, David Fattah.

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Queen Mother Falah Fattah speaks at the “Return To Peace in the Streets” press conference at the House of Umoja, located at 5625 Master Street in Philadelphia. (Tennyson Donyéa/WHYY)

Local leaders and community organizers in collaboration with the House of Umoja have created Partners in Peace, a self-described coalition for “peace and Black life.” It is a partnership between the House of Umoja and Philly Peace Park.

The coalition revealed a multi-tiered plan to broker peace in warring communities by going door-to-door and having conversations with residents in neighborhoods prone to violence. The first series of conversations begins this week, ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Starting at noon on Monday, the group will meet every day to initiate dialogue between community members about solutions to rising crime. It’s known as the “10-10-10 Plan,” in which 10 teams of 10 people will initiate ceasefire agreements on 10 different blocks in gun violence hot spots in North and West Philly. Carroll Park will be the campaign’s starting point.

“In order for the violence to stop, for the violence to cease, it’s not going to come from more money being spread around, it’s not going to come from more police being deployed. It’s not going to come from more punishment,” said Tommy Joshua Caison, a faith-based organizer from North Philadelphia. “It’s going to come from God, the master, working on our hearts.”

Caison is a member of Partners in Peace, and will help mediate the conversations. He has denoted North Philadelphia and West Philadelphia as “Gun Violence Ceasefire Zones.”

A second series of ceasefire proposals would begin around the Winter holiday season in December.

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Community members at the House of Umoja at 5625 West Master St. in Philadelphia look on as organizers announce of renewal of the 1974 “Imani Peace Pact.” (Tennyson Donyéa/WHYY)

“We are going to end the violence in our own communities by our own Black hands. You are going to see a renaissance,” Caison said. “You are going to see the most mighty renaissance that we’ve ever seen in the history of our people and the history of Philadelphia, once we establish peace. The new reality for Philadelphia, starting here this day, is a reality of peace.”

Fattah, now 89 years old, said much of House of Umoja’s work is spearheaded by her grandson, Anthony Bannister-Fattah, and she expressed hope for a new generation of peace.

“We have to take command of our own salvation and that cannot come from the top down. It has to come from the bottom up,” Fattah said.

In 1974, when the first peace pact was formed, close to 450 people were murdered; by 1977, murders had dropped to 320, a decade low.

Philadelphia Councilman Curtis Jones wears a green ribbon that represents “youth and the land” in the Pan African Flag. (Tennyson Donyéa/WHYY)

After the Fattahs learned one of their sons was a gang member, they began to take in troubled young people at their residential treatment home and anti-violence program. Over 40 years, the House of Umoja has garnered the recognition of two sitting U.S. presidents, and at one point, city probation officers began sentencing boys to spend time at the West Philly haven.

As of Nov. 20, 491 people have been murdered in Philadelphia this year, according to the Philadelphia Police Department. In 2020, there were 499 homicides in the entire year, and there were 356 reported in 2019.

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