Al-Malik Farrakhan, 64, paused in the midst of the revelry and proclaimed his satisfaction at what his organization accomplished despite having little or no money to pull the event off. Farrakhan has become something of a magician, able to conjure up programs and projects to benefit teens and young adults, grown-ups and ex-offenders from almost nothing.
He and his organization – founded in 1995 – depend these days on the kindness of friends and strangers alike. The organization has not been able to get major funding since 2009 and so Farrakhan has had to resort to small offers of assistance and help from individuals and businesses which admire and support what Cease Fire represents. He said Council members Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4); Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large); and Michael Brown (I-At-Large); Marion Barry (D-Ward 8); and Vincent Orange (D-At-Large) have donated sums ranging from $100 to $1,000 which has kept the electricity and telephone on and he has received other assistance from individuals and businesses.
When Marion Barry, 75, was mayor, Cease Fire received the money it needed to provide services, training, entrepreneurial pursuits and a host of other projects to help steer troubled youth and adults away from crime and violence.
Things changed when Adrian Fenty took office, Farrakhan said. Fenty divided the city into three and funded Peaceoholics, and two other anti-violence organizations. Farrakhan’s onetime protégé Ron Moten, co-founded Peaceoholics in 2004.
“Fenty made sure one or two people got the money,” Farrakhan said. “One group I never heard of but they were the ones who got the money.”
Between 2005 and 2010, Peaceoholics received several million in loans and grants from a number of
District agencies. But critics assailed Moten and others who ran the organization after reviews of contracts and other documents uncovered shoddy bookkeeping and questions about how the money was spent and on what.
Farrakhan had little to say about Peaceoholics or Moten, but Farrakhan said Moten took what he learned from Cease Fire to build his non-profit.
“Unlimited numbers of people come in here,” said Farrakhan, who spent more than two decades in prison. “They can come in here and it’s a sanctuary. Nobody in this city has our track record, you feel me?”
Cease Fire coalesced when 50 District street gang members convened in Mayor Barry’s office and vowed to stop the killings. For more than 15 years, Farrakhan and his cadre of Cease Fire stalwarts have crisscrossed the city, night and day, swooping into hotspots to douse the flames of violence and discord that plagues and claims the lives of too many of the city’s youth. A significant part of Farrakhan’s crew are ex-offenders who spent varying amounts of time behind bars – some for as long as 30 years – and now devote their time making sure another generation stays alive and doesn’t languish behind bars.
“We have hotspots all over the city,” Farrakhan explained. “It may be old beefs, brothers and sisters coming home, sometimes it’s females playing one man off against another. It is a lack of knowledge of self, and self-hate, you feel me?”
“We’ve helped 200 people who’ve been coming home [from prison] since 2004. We were already doing reentry before there was reentry. There’s lots of money out there but I’m not their pick. You have the job situation, and programs losing money but the mayor and others say they have no money [to give us]. We provided [Gray] with 10,000 votes and now he says he has no money. The men come here but they haven’t gotten paid since 2009.”
Cease Fire bused in van-loads of homeless people, made sure they were well fed and drove them back after their dinner.
Rhythm and blues, go-go and other music pumping from the sound system, added an aural backdrop to the hum of conversation. Whenever a friend came through the door, Farrakhan would jump up, greet the person loudly and then hug him or her firmly when they came within arms-reach. He and his brothers would trade war stories, tease each other about events that occurred when they were young, signify mercilessly, often so amused by the banter that they were bent over in laughter.
Farrakhan’s friends and associates describe him as charismatic, funny, indefatigable, serious, caring, aggressive, and no-nonsense. He does not suffer fools wisely and can be counted on to say exactly what’s on his mind. He is an unrepentant rebel and the possessor of a revolutionary ardor that seems out of place in a PC world, which particularly fears a vocal and outspoken black man. Such characteristics have come at a cost, he readily acknowledges, but he is unmoved, focusing instead on how best to steer money and other resources to his beloved organization.
Everyone who spoke about Farrakhan, founder and CEO of Cease Fire, commented on his miraculous recovery that saw him move from being wheelchair-bound and using crutches, unable to drive and having limited self-sufficiency to now driving his own vehicle and walking around unaided.
“I’ve known him for some years. We go all the way back to the early ‘70s,” said Joe Hooper. “He’s always been an aggressive community activist from the very beginning. This is beautiful – a much-needed service in the community.”
Hooper, 64, who works in the D.C. Office of the Attorney General in the Child Support Services Division, recalled what the area around the Cease Fire offices was like before Farrakhan settled into the Ward 4 neighborhood.
“It was social chaos and havoc in the community,” said Hooper. “There are social ills not just in this area. We need Ceasefire in every ward in the city. It uplifts people economically, spiritually and in any way that can be beneficial. It’s the first time that I’ve physically been here. I’m impressed. This is only the beginning. I will be back …”
“No matter what program or project you’re involved with, you need money to keep the heat and lights on, to pay the bills. This will adversely affect a lot of people and things if he is forced to close.”
Diana Hillman grew up with Farrakhan and was dismayed as he spoke about the organization’s financial struggles.
“I didn’t know about this until I walked in here and heard what was going on,” she said. “I’m pissed. I’ve been aware of what he’s been doing for a while and he has been doing for the community always …”
Hillman, a retired teacher, was interrupted by a man complimenting Farrakhan.
“What you’re doing is a blessing from God,” he said. “Thank you for what you’ve been doing.”
“I’m thinking of all the grants that are in place,” she continued. “Things like this are a conspiracy. They don’t want these programs to succeed. I’m going to get up and do something to help because of what he’s doing for our people.”
Then Hillman got up and volunteered to drive some of the guests home.
Through Ceasefire’s efforts, there is a six-month moratorium on violence. A cookout marking the start of the moratorium was attended by several thousand people at Upshur Street playground in Northwest in September.
“There were 4,000 people at the cookout,” Farrakhan said. “And we had 14 of the greatest boxing matches. Assistant Police Chief Diane Groomes was there and (D.C. Councilmember) Muriel Bowser, you dig? We had every generation out there. We had gang members serving the elders. The elders didn’t have to get up to get a thing. Oh man, they loved it! Hispanics, whites, blacks, everyone got fed.”
Several people spoke of their admiration for a man who acts and not just talks.
“That’s my brother,” said Gregg Cook, Farrakhan’s biological sibling. “He is a go-getter, a creator. He has a great heart and wants to make things and you well. He is very focused when he sees the need. He has no fear. People know that and respect that. He is awesome in Cease Fire. This is his garden. He’s the gardener, a true gardener. He looks out for the new seeded plants and those who have lost their petals.”