Queen Mother Falaka Fattah marked her 80th birthday with a special celebration.
Politicians, community and business leaders, and clergy turned out on Wednesday evening to celebrate the occasion at the Mayor’s Reception Room in City Hall.
Fattah and her husband David Fattah are known for founding the House of Umoja, a safe haven for gang members. Umoja was established in 1968, at a time when gang violence was claiming the lives of young Philadelphians.
During her birthday celebration, Fattah was lauded for impacting the lives of more than 3,000 young men who, at various points, lived at the house, located in the 1400 block of Frazier Street.
“She took it upon herself to take gang members off the street, invite them into her home and change their lives,” said Manwell Glenn, who served as the event’s master of ceremonies.
“People in life cause ripples. Everyone’s life causes a ripple. Queen Mother Falaka Fattah — your life has created tidal waves and tsunamis.”
Celebration host Councilman Curtis Jones said if it hadn’t been for Fattah, he would not have become a politician. Jones was one of the young men whose lives were touched by Fattah back during the early ’70s. He gave an overview of Fattah’s tactics in bringing peace between the city’s warring gangs.
“Today it is my job to acknowledge a living legend — a living legend who made a difference in the history of the city of Philadelphia,” said Jones.
Jones noted that in 1973, two-thirds of the homicides that occurred in Philadelphia were attributed to gang violence.
Flanked by his children, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah gave a tribute to his mother.
“We are here to thank this woman for what she’s done while she can smell the roses — while she can hear and see the appreciation of a grateful community,” said Fattah.
“We’re here to say happy birthday. It’s not so much about her birth, but more about her life,” said Fattah.
“We all are born, and we are all going to expire. It’s what is done with that dash in between that date of birth and the date of expiration. For these 80 years, this is a woman who did so much that we all have to just pause and say thank you.”
Mayor Michael Nutter was also on hand to acknowledge Fattah. He recalled the difficulties of navigating the streets of Philadelphia during the ’60s due to gang violence.
“It took a strong woman to have to stand in the middle of the street to tell these growing — getting stronger, getting bigger — young men to stop doing what they were doing, to calm things down. She was a stand up person then who saved lives — and she’s been a stand up person ever since,” said Nutter.
After thanking various individuals for assisting her over the years, Fattah took the occasion to highlight Umoja’s “Think Green Peace” initiative. Under the initiative, Umoja residents and volunteers have turned vacant lots near its West Philadelphia compound into thriving “peace gardens” of growing vegetables.
Fattah said the peace gardens are places where people can come to bury their grievances.
“This is what I see for the future — these gardens all over Philadelphia — burying grievances so that people don’t feel like they have to fight it out,” said Fattah.
During the celebration, City Council members Bill Green, Jannie Blackwell and Jones presented Fattah with a city citation.
The third day of Kwanzaa was also marked during the celebration. Guests were entertained with performances from singer Denise Tisdale and the Universal African Dancers and Drum Ensemble.
The 1995 Million Man March spawned several other marches and mass gatherings, such as the Million Mom March, the Million Families March and others.
For Philadelphia, however, the most influential spinoff may very well be the Million Father March.
Now in its fifth year, the MFM is designed to get fathers more involved in their children’s scholastic lives, by coaxing fathers to not only walk their kids to school on the first day, but to stay with their child throughout the day, so they can meet the teachers and aides as well as having a general presence at the school.
March organizers plan a two-pronged approach during this year’s march, by incorporating incarcerated fathers into the academic lives of their children, and to buttress the public school system on the whole, according to Million Father March Executive Director David Fattah Sr.
“Serious help is needed to uphold the public school system. We also want to underline that this year, we’re going all out to involve men who are incarcerated, so we can have someone walk their kids to school,” Fattah Sr. said, noting that more than 800 cities across the country will take part in the march, and that the goal of one million fathers participating is easily within reach. “For men that are incarcerated, they come home and it’s hard to adjust. And this is coming from the national office that we get them to agree to get their own education and check on their kids in school.”
From Fattah Sr.’s perspective, fatherly involvement will go a long way toward helping the school district, especially when the closing of schools and the shuttering of programs are factored in.
“When talking about the schools closing, it’s important to remember that when public schools first started, they used a Latin motto, when translated, means ‘out of many, come one,’ which was based on the fact that so many immigrants came to America from different cultures, and used public schools to bring them together,” Fattah Sr. said. “That has been lost. Educator Bob Moses advocated that there is a constitutional right to quality education, and this is how we need to look at this.
“The days of ‘separate but equal’ must end,” Fattah Sr. continued, “and [the march] will inspire our children.”
The Million Father March is but one of the programs facilitated by the Chicago-based non-profit Black Star Project outfit, which offers several other community and education-based programs geared toward African-American sustainability.
While the march is a national event, some help at the local level is always welcomed, said local president and founder Queen Mother Falaka Fattah, who has dedicated her life to such causes, first by ending the Philly gang wars of the ’60s and ’70s, and then to the general plight of Black youth in the city.
To that end, those willing to donate time, money and other resources — Falaka Fattah said the local organizing branch can use people to drive, and for people to lead several other, smaller marches should either call (215) 473-5893, click over to www.HouseOfUmoja.org or simply stop by the House of Umoja West Philadelphia headquarters, 5625 Master St. Those interested can also attend the planning meetings, held every Saturday from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the House of Umoja. The local movement isn’t subsidized by any grants, so everything must be provided by the community.
For Falaka Fattah, this march, coupled with the involvement of neighborhood fathers and other concerned men, will help stem the flow of Black youth cycling through the justice system.
“I’m concerned about the criminalization of our children. America has the largest and most significant incarceration rate in the world, where 65 percent of those incarcerated look just like me and you,” Falaka Fattah said. “And by the fifth grade, [detention specialists] are using them to define how many prisons to build. So we have a very holistic approach: if they are not going to school, then they are going to jail.
“In my mind, we have a crisis,” Falaka Fattah continued. “We look at cities like Camden, where it looks like it’s a war zone and condemned, and, going out of our own group, you can look what happened in Pine Ridge, North Dakota [which recently had a surge in gang violence on its Indian Reservation], it’s like it is not even a part of America. You could also look at what has happened with [violence facing] Hispanics, so it’s not just African Americans. But we have to start where we are, and where we are is Black.”