The event marks the 16th anniversary of the first march in Washington, D.C.
Nathan Washington, 19, says he doesn’t “know what anybody could say to change things. It just seems like things never change, they just get worse.” Washington’s lost two friends to street violence and says he knows others who have been involved in the wave of media-labeled “flash” mobs that plagued the city for two summer months and prompted Mayor Nutter to give the demonizing, “you’re an embarrassment to your race” speech.
For Rodney Muhammad, local Nation of Islam minister and member of the event’s organizing board, the problems with the youth relates to the previous generation’s failure to uphold the principles of the original march. “The issues that plague our communities now are a direct result of the violation of the pledge we all took that day,” the minister says.
It was a pledge to pursue economic development, strengthen family community, and moreover, proclaim to never engage in violence: “I pledge that from this day forward I will strive to love my brother as I love myself. I, from this day forward will strive to improve myself spiritually, morally, mentally, socially, politically and economically for the benefit of myself, my family and my people.” I pledge that from this day forward I will never raise my hand with a knife of a gun to beat, cut, or shoot any member of my family or any human being except in self-defense.
Philly is said to have had the largest contingency of men at the original march, with more than 200,000 from the city in attendance. In a city where black males remain in crisis—of the 249 homicides in Philly so far this year, 84.3 percent of the victims were black—many in the community say there’s no better time or place for a summit.
“I think this is one of the best times to have something of this nature in this city,” says Joel Patterson, a 24-year-old West Philly native and recent college grad. Patterson believes his generation needs something to inspire them but adds that there must be some long-term plan implemented to continue to address these issues. “Young people need to see that they can make a difference and be part of change,” he says.
While this year’s weekend-long convention is focused on many of the same issues that were addressed sixteen years ago—hunger, economic disparities and violence with a particular focus on bringing out the city’s youth—there is one major change. Unlike the original march, this one is open to women as well. “The youth, women and people of all races and ethnicities are encouraged to come out,” says Rodney. “To get answers where there are questions, remedies where there are problems and healing where there is pain.”