To Stop Gang Violence, They Opened Up Their Own Home

cut out of children
Via Unsplash
Zain Murdock
February 2, 2024

“A child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth,” goes the African proverb. When married couple David and Falaka Fattah founded the House of Umoja in West Philadelphia, they created a village to embrace children.

In 1968, Falaka attended a conference on Umoja (unity in Swahili) immediately thinking of ways that she could apply what she had learned to end gang violence in her neighborhood.

And soon, the Fattahs discovered their own son had joined a gang. Their response? 

Unlocking their door and inviting the gang to live with them.

It worked. The new siblings learned African customs, practiced conflict resolution, did chores and got  paid work, and earned the neighborhood’s trust.

After a decade, Umoja had housed 400 boys from 73 gangs. In 1978, gang-related deaths fell from 40 to one. In 1974, the Imani Peace Pact gathered 500-700 gang members, who vowed to stop the violence. Even a congressional report found that Umoja had changed Philly.

But today, though Falaka and her grandson still run the program, it no longer receives city funding or referrals— likely because Umoja refuses to collaborate with the criminal legal system.

Umoja is practicing the future we can build without prisons and police. It doesn’t matter whether the state finds it legitimate — we should do what works. And if the state won’t fund, expand, or support effective community anti-violence work, we will.

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