Wanted: 10,000 men to stop violence

Posted: September 15, 2007

With the number of homicides in Philadelphia this year approaching 300, black community activists yesterday announced that they are calling for 10,000 men to volunteer to deter violence by going into selected areas of the city to be a visible presence.

"Every day, people are dying on our streets," Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson said as he was joined by about a dozen community leaders at a morning news conference at the Francis Myers Recreation Center at 58th Street and Kingsessing Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia.

The program seeks volunteers of all races, but especially African Americans, to attend an Oct. 21 gathering at the Liacouras Center at Temple University, and volunteer to take a stand against violence.

Johnson, who over the years has said that policing alone will not ease the tide of homicides, said he had met with the entertainment promoter Charles "Charlie Mack" Alston, the music mogul Kenny Gamble, and the radio personality E. Steven Collins of TV/Radio One in recent months on ways to combat violence.

"We need a holistic approach, and this initiative fits right in along those lines," Johnson said in a statement distributed at the gathering.

Collins said Alston came up with idea to put men on the street to help deter violence.

Johnson said the men would receive conflict-resolution and mental-health training before they are sent into the community.

"We are not going out to harass anyone, we are not going out to confront anyone," Johnson said.

"We are attempting today to enlist the support of whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, every male in this city, to step forward," said Collins. "Our objective is to call to action 10,000 men to work in a proactive manner to deter unwanted and illegal behavior that is killing people in our community."

Organizers asked that anyone interested in joining the effort preregister at www.10000menphilly.com.

The gathering included several religious leaders, including Minister Rodney Muhammad, leader of Muhammad's Mosque No. 12, and the Rev. Robert Shine, former president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity.

Muhammad said the idea of enlisting 10,000 men invoked "the spirit of the Million Man March" in Washington in 1995. He said it was important that the focus be on men because most of the violence involves males.

"If the heart is what we are and the hand is what we do, we need to change how people see themselves," Muhammad said.

Shine said, "This is the message: We must break the cycle of violence in Philadelphia. ... To break the cycle of violence, there must be alternatives that we give to the young men and women in our streets. Joining this effort on Oct. 21 is key and critical."

Alston, with his two teenage sons at his side, said anyone with children, a wife or a mother should join the effort.

In a statement, Alston, who is well known in Hollywood circles and who sponsors an annual celebrity basketball game in Philadelphia, said: "I sold drugs. I helped create this problem in our neighborhoods, so I am coming back to do something about it, but I can't do it alone. I need the men in this city to step up and be proactive."

State Rep. Ron Waters (D., Phila.) echoed the sentiments of Johnson.

"The commissioner says we can't police our way out of this. Well, it also looks that we can't legislate our way out of it," Waters said of violence in Philadelphia.

"We want to see the men of our communities step up, and this is the solution. I have all the confidence that this will work."

Gamble said: "We know that violence is in our community and it is unacceptable. This movement is going to get at the cause of the violence, that [lack of] education is cause of much of the violence.

"Brothers and sisters, our youth and the future is at stake."

Contact staff writer Vernon Clark at 215-854-5717 or vclark@phillynews.com.

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