With enthusiasm that belied their numbers, the first 100 men committed to encouraging thousands of African Americans to become community activists took to the street yesterday in a “field training” exercise.
On a sunny, brisk day, the initial public patrols of “10,000 Men: A Call to Action” set out from the Vare Recreation Center at 26th and Morris Streets to canvass about 16 blocks of South Philadelphia and Point Breeze.
Trained to be polite and nonconfrontational, the men walked the neighborhoods and distributed printed door-hangers introducing the outfit, which was organized in reaction to a violent crime wave that has affected black neighborhoods more than most.
“There won’t be conflict,” said Anthony Murphy, one of the leaders of the organization’s field operations. “We’re going to be friendly black men. It’s important.”
The organizers said they were not disappointed at the turnout; about 200 men who were trained as “vanguard” leaders had been expected to show up for the initial outreach. The men who patrolled yesterday are expected to supervise squads of about 10 men in the coming months.
The 10,000-men organization was introduced to the public last month amid substantial fanfare—and some skepticism that the effort would be short-lived and fizzle. Using volunteer labor and private contributions, organizers are methodically building the group as quickly as possible, they say, to prevent a loss of fervor among the more than 11,000 people who have registered with the organization.
Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson, who said he was committed to helping the organization after his retirement in January, said the group was determined to live up to the mostly positive attention it had received.
Encouraged to wear black, the men yesterday were fitted with armbands and baseball caps that sported the organization’s red-black-and-green logo, an African shield with crossed spears.
The logo is intended to be nonpolitical and nonreligious, said Abdur-Rahim Islam, the organization’s general manager. “The common denominator for us all is that we’re all from Africa,” he said.
The organizers say their aim is to encourage African American men to take a more active role in their neighborhoods and families.
The unarmed field patrols will function as a kind of hybrid town-watch organization that will patrol neighborhoods and encourage young men—who commit much of the violent crime, and are its victims—to put down their arms and pursue a more productive path. The volunteers will attempt to steer the men toward services such as job-training programs.