Cease Fire Struggles to Perform Its Mission
Barrington M. Salmon | 11/30/2011, 10:12 p.m.
Outside 4708 14th Street, NW, the setting sun and a brisk breeze further cooled off what had been a crisp autumn day.
Inside the building, home of Cease Fire: Don't Smoke the Brothers, familial warmth filled every corner of the space. Diners sat at five tables eating a sumptuous Thanksgiving meal of turkey, string beans, mashed potatoes and yams. People chatted amicably, laughed easily and enjoyed each other's company and welcomed newcomers as they sauntered through the front door in search of a meal.
At the end of the day, Cease Fire staff and volunteers had fed almost 80 people - including a number of homeless individuals - and packed and distributed about 150 boxes of dinners to various parts of the city.
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 protege 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.