Under an unseasonably warm sun, thousands of men swarmed the Liacouras Center Sunday to hear local leaders discuss a plan to curb violence by sending 10,000 volunteers to patrol the streets of Philadelphia’s worst neighborhoods.
Organizers of the event – including Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson – had called for 10,000 black men to participate in Sunday’s rally and volunteer to patrol the city. Though the 10,200-seat venue was filled to about two-thirds capacity, the movement’s organizers declared the turnout a success.
“The [media] said we couldn’t do it, and we did it,” Commissioner Johnson said to rousing cheers from the audience.
From their posts onstage, Johnson and other organizers repeatedly shouted, “It’s a new day!” The contingent included a slew of political heavyweights, including Mayor John Street and Democratic mayoral candidate Michael Nutter. Pennsylvania State Rep. Dwight Evans and U.S. Reps. Chaka Fattah and Bob Brady were also on hand to kick off the initiative.
Noting the symbolism of such unity, Fattah told the audience, “This is not politics. This is about self-preservation.”
Many critics of Sunday’s rally and the larger program argued that the program did little to tackle underlying issues in urban communities, including unemployment. During the event, Nutter challenged local employers, including City Hall, to examine hiring practices.
“If somebody shows up and they’re ready to go to work, give them a job,” he said.
To date, the city’s murder toll is more than 300. Part of the problem, Temple African American studies professor Molefi K. Asante said at Sunday’s rally, is that local youth are disconnected from the history of their ancestors. Asante told the audience the community-based initiative embodied the spirit of the African principle of self-determination.
“We have never found a crisis we could not solve,” he said.
Rally attendees were registered at the event to participate in foot patrols and given instructions to meet at neighborhood hubs this week to organize. Organizer and music producer Kenny Gamble said each patrolman would be expected to abide by a code of conduct while working in local communities. Those unable to participate in patrols were encouraged to support efforts by working in recreation centers and block watch groups.
“After today, if we are not successful, it is your fault,” Gamble said to the audience.
The importance of Sunday’s event was not lost on participants, many of whom donned colorful T-shirts stamped with various designs commemorating the event. Many organizers drew parallels between the rally and another historic gathering of black men, 1995’s Million Man March in Washington, D.C.
“I’ve been prepared,” said West Philadelphia resident Charles Logan. “I actually want to do more volunteer work. I already had these ideas before I came here.”
North Philadelphia resident Khaleef Aye brought neighborhood youth to the rally.
“It’s not that much about the publicity,” he said, “so much as it is about them.”
Benae Mosby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.