By Nathaniel Lee
No Gangwar in ‘74.
Stay Alive in ‘75.
Those were just two of the slogans created by then Sister Falaka Fattah that helped to end the teen gangwars of the 60’s and 70’s.
On the first day of the new year - 2014 - The House of Umoja in the 1400 Block of North Frazier Street will celebrate the 40th year of one of their programs that helped to alleviate the horror of gangwarring that would kill nearly 50 or more young people each year.
The Imani Pledge, Imani meaning faith in Swahili, was one in which those who took the pledge promised to not engage in territorial gang wars.
“I have to go back, at least to 1969, when Philadelphia was known as the gang capitol of the United States,” said Queen Mother Falaka Fattah, who was the guiding spirit that inspired gang members and gang workers to keep the faith and the peace.
Fattah said that at that time gangs and the violence which they bred, had reached epidemic proportions and the murder of young black men was common in Philadelphia’s inner-city neighborhoods.
“1969 was known as the city of the gun and the Daily News paper kept scores of the people that were being killed,” said Fattah of that era.
According to Fattah, the city was divided into what she calls ‘turfdoms’ where gangs fought to preserve territories which they claimed for their own.
The House of Umoja had experienced significant success in the lives of those who came through its doors. At the House, men, most of them gang members, were given a home and supportive services but would have to agree to live according to certain rules. One of those rules was that there was to be no gang activity for those living in the facility.
“Basically it was my normal habit to have a meeting with residents of the House of Umoja on Fridays so that they could go home with a positive attitude,” Fattah said.
During one such discussion, the men raised the issue of gang warfare on the streets and how a difference in the city could be made.
“We usually had about 15 - 30 boys at a time but it was like throwing a pebble in the stream, it has a rippling effect because all of the men were in different gangs.”
There were over 105 active gangs in the city by the year 1974, Fattah said.
“So you had trouble going from one part of the city to another,” she said.
Steve Satell, author of the book “No gang war in ‘74,” a book which details the history and activities of the campaign to end territorial gang wars in the city.
“I wanted to create a book that would help young people to see what would happen when you get wrapped up in the things that you are doing when you’re not thinking,” said Satell.
Satell said he tied the book to the work of the Fattah family who had successfully ended territorial crime in the city..
David Fattah said that the 40th anniversary event in January would be designed to pay tribute to the men, former gang members, who not only signed the Imani pledge but kept their word not to engage in territorial gang wars.
“The main thing we are going to have is a workshop, we are going to have a reconvening of the 1974 ‘No Gang war Campaign’ which Is built on the Imani pledge,” said Fattah.
Fattah said that the pledge was built upon one principle, the principle of ones word being one’s bond. It was this commitment to keeping their word which has kept the former gang members from returning to gang activity for 40 years now.
“Another thing that I hope would come out of this is that we find and recognize those young men who were courageous enough to both sign the Imani Pledge and keep their word for 40 years,” said Fattah.
The Fattahs, parents of Congressman Chaka Fattah, are actively seeking those who have signed the Imani pledge and ask that they contact The House of Umoja at 215-473-5893.
When you talk to Bahiyyah Torres, you realize this is a young lady with big dreams.
At the ripe age of 25, this single mother is holding down a full-time job, while also attending Chestnut Hill College. She is seeking a degree in Human Services.
“Once I get my Master’s, I want to start my own nonprofit,” she says about creating an organization to mentor the next generation of young people.
This is a young woman with a lot on the go.
And that ‘go’ caught the eye of Ms. Wayne Walker-Lipscomb, who awarded Ms. Torres the second $1,000 grant from the Moses Walker Jr. Scholarship Fund.
“As a single parent, she has achieved a lot in the last four years,” explained Ms. Walker-Lispscomb. “She’s a great achiever.”
The Moses Walker Jr. Scholarship Fund was established by Ms. Walker-Lispscomb to honor her son, Police Officer Moses Walker Jr., who was slain in August 2012 by robbers after finishing his tour from North Philly’s 22nd Police District.
Ms. Walker-Lipscomb and Ms. Torres have a connection through the neighborhood’s AchieveAbility.
Ms. Torres lives in one of AchieveAbility’s housing units, and Ms. Walker-Lispscomb was once a client herself from 1999-2007.
For all its worth, Ms. Torres said her family is the linchpin that is helping her achieve her dreams.
She credits her mother, Karen Andrews, and her sister, Brittney Torres, with helping her hold down a job and attend college where she maintains a 3.5 out of 4.0 grade point average.
She expects to graduate in August 2014.
“I want to be a model for my son, (Bahaj Witherspoon, 5),” she said. “I want him to know the kind of woman to look for when he gets older.”
A woman like his mother.