Former Gang Members Reunite To Celebrate Ceasefire That Ended Gang Wars 40 Years Ago
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By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Scores of former gang leaders came together Wednesday in Northwest Philadelphia to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Imani pledge– the ceasefire promise that ended the years of gang wars that plagued the city during the 1960s and 70s.
“It was a blessing being at that meeting,” says Wesley Wilson Bey, “we had to bring about some kind of unity because we were killing off our race.”
Bey was part of the gang at 21st and Norris Streets in North Philadelphia when he signed the “Imani” or faith pledge on January 1, 1974, a promise he’s kept for 40 years.
“The only thing you really have is your word,” says Bey, “but we had to stop.”
Bey has left his gang banging ways behind him. Today, a sharp dresser, he works as a barber and tailor. He’s a father, husband and minister.
“I really turned my life around,” says Bey.
Queen Mother Falaka Fattah, founder of the House of Umoja, organized the New Years Day “No Gang War in ’74″ conference. David Fattah, who has been married to Falaka for more than 40 years, wrote the pledge that roughly 80 gangs signed on to by the end of 1974. The House of Umoja teamed up with Philadelphia Ceasefire for the 40th reunion.
“We don’t have gangs as they did in the 1970s, we have what they call cliques,” says Marla Davis Bellamy of Philadelphia Ceasefire. She says a lot has changed in four decades, but the 1974 victory is still resonates today.
“Those men turned their lives around and hopefully they can work with our young people to help them do the same,” she says, “to help them better understand that [violence] is not the way to resolve their differences with one another.”
“We want to do this now for the kids and show them what we learned– that it was foolishness,” says Otis Franklin, who was shot while he was a gang member at just 15.
“I lost my foot– I lost a limb to gang banging,” he says, “I went through it. Now I am older, smarter, wiser and I want to help.”
Congressman Chaka Fattah, who is the son of Falaka and David Fattah, spoke to the crowd, telling them the past can inspire future generations.
“Here’s a success where our community made a decision that something was going to change and it changed,” he says.
The event included a performance by Sonia Sanchez, as well as award presentations to warriors of peace.
Follow Cherri Gregg on Twitter: @cherrigregg