By Mark F. Gray, AFRO Staff Writer, [email protected]
The bands and boxers were used as tools of peace at Upshur Recreation Center playground in Northwest, D.C., while approximately 5,000 people joined in the Don’t Smoke the Brothers and Sisters’ (DSTBS) 12th Anniversary Cookout to end gun violence Labor Day weekend.
This grassroots organization is realistic in its approach to a six-month moratorium on crime and gun violence in Ward 4 each year. They hope that fun, food, and community fellowship offsets the negative influences that lead to fatalities plaguing the District. It’s organizers claim they have reduced the number of lives lost to gun violence in that area.
“We use the bands and boxing as tools to bring people out,” DSTBS founder and executive director Ali Farrakhan told the AFRO. “Hopefully, they will take what they learn about what we do in our community and take it back to theirs and make it better.”
Farrakhan said that it may be impossible to end all inner city gun violence, but the 501c3 organization can help curtail the number of fatal attacks around D.C. in a period of six months year round. They have structured a program based upon principles from the Nation of Islam’s “Do For Self” philosophy launched by Rev. Louis Farrakhan in 1989, and Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown’s Amer-I-Can initiative.
One of DSTBS’s biggest achievements is its work with integrating ex-prisoners into society upon release. Their Adopt A Prisoner project claims that 200 formerly incarcerated individuals have been taught the skills necessary to become productive members of society as entrepreneurs. After they become self sufficient, the ex-offenders contribute back into the organization financially, and provides $50 monthly to inmate prison accounts to help them while they remain behind bars.
“This is a grassroots organization and we’re realistic,” Farrakhan, who served prison time himself, says, “We can’t put an end to all gun violence because there are those who profit by keeping jails full, but we can help those take advantage of a second chance once they are released.”
Organizers claim this is the largest group of ex-inmates who’ve annually gathered at a social event since its inception in 2007. They serve as street sages who try and divert the next generation from making the same mistakes that cost them years of freedom by sharing stories of their previous mistakes.
“It’s a challenge since the glorification of mafia images have infected our community,” Farrakhan added. “When kids see [gangsters] as heroes in movies, then you end up with gun violence in our neighborhoods.”
Thanks to the sponsorship of D.C.-based Universal Madness, the first and oldest urban fashion clothing business in the United States, all attendees received free refreshments. The entertainment featured performances by Wisdom Speeks, Jett Black DC, AGs (the Lorton Legends), and Copper Rose & Bones. There were free health screenings and voter registration drives amongst the community engagement opportunities during the noon to dusk activities. The amateur boxing tournament was sanctioned by the D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission and the Potomac Valley Boxing Association.