Peace Fest for the Support of the Phoenix Community

Peace Fest for the Support of the Phoenix Community

Story tools

A A AResize

Print

 

The 9th Annual “Stop the Violence” Peace Fest on April 18 demonstrated that leaders and business owners in the Phoenix metropolitan area are committed to supporting positive gatherings in the African American community. Vendors, performers and attendees descended upon the picturesque terrain of South Mountain Park, which lent a rugged, natural serenity to an afternoon filled with anti-violence performances.

For many residents, “rugged” is a term too often associated with south Phoenix—and not due to the scenery of South Mountain. While the African American community is dispersed throughout Maricopa County, Districts 7 and 8 are traditionally accepted as possessing the most concentrated population of African Americans.

For Peace Fest organizers, holding the gathering in close proximity to south side neighborhoods is essential to the event's success.

“We've got to get in there, roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty,” says Peace Fest founder Therman Stewart, Jr., of the Black Entrepreneur Association, who estimated a turnout of 3,500 people for Sunday's event. Stewart further explained that several Phoenix gangs are within a 10-mile radius of the South Mountain Location. “The day went very well ... we bring people together, and we've had no incidents throughout our 10-year history.”

Last year, the economic downturn prompted organizers to temporarily postpone the Peace Fest, a difficult budgeting decision shared by many Valley nonprofits in 2009. Despite wavering faith in a fully recovered economy, local businesses and organizations responded to the 2010 return of the Peace Fest with a strong turnout.

Today major corporations vie for influence on the nation's youth, while African American leaders sometimes struggle to foster connections across the digital divide. These factors make for a critical aspect to events like the Peace Fest, which help uphold a continuity of community within the Valley of the Sun. A debonair showcase of urban rides by SWIFT Car Club, or long lemonade lines at Karim's Cobbler Shop and Bakery might appear blasé to some observers, yet every vendor present provided far more than consumables and information.

Youth were given the opportunity to see resilient African American entrepreneurs, still operating in a time when faceless national chains threaten to market small business owners into obscurity. Community advocates such as Representative Cloves Campbell, Jr. and Senator Leah Landrum-Taylor were on hand, serving as visible examples that the political process is within the grasp of any bold young hand indeed willing to grasp it.

This constructive aura extended itself to the loudspeakers of the performance area as well. Rap artists, singers and spoken word poets throughout the afternoon consistently brought their positive—and oftentimes deeply spiritual—lyrics and themes. The rap duo of “sleeplessouljaz” shared a powerful motivation for their rhymes; Nate and “T” were adopted from a Haitian orphanage in 1989, and currently serve as Youth Leaders at Faith Center West Family Church in Tempe. They performed for the Valley offering of the nationwide “Hip Hop for Haiti” effort, (which also occupied vendor space at the Peace Fest). Half of every “sleeplessouljaz” album sold at the Peace Fest was donated to ongoing Haitian relief efforts.

Organizations such as the University of Arizona Alumni Association, the United Negro College Fund, Ebony House Behavioral Health and Focus Care of Arizona were also present to share educational and health-related initiatives with attendees. Representatives from the Moorish American National Republic, the Millions More Movement and The Nation of Islam also hosted tables to provide deeper consciousness for attendees seeking knowledge.

“Let this spirit be our spirit every day. Whether Black, Hispanic, Muslim or Christian—What matters today is we are made in God's image,” said Minister Abel Muhammad of the Nation of Islam, who delivered straightforward exhortation along with his encouragement. “If I see a brother with his pants hanging off, is that God's image? If I see a sister halfway (naked), is that God's image?”

The 2010 Peace Fest used any means necessary to open young minds; whether tough love messages, empowering words and beats, or business role models in action. Arizona statistics demand such means and more. The Arizona Department of Health and Human Services states that a total of 8,342 assaults in 2007 involved residents 24 years or younger—with 196 of those assaults resulting in death.

“I spoke with Councilman Michael Johnson about (District 8), and he said that crime has decreased,” says Stewart. Passion rises in his voice as he explains his ongoing non-profit initiatives, such as “Peace Tours,” that will delve straight into the heart of neighborhoods. Stewart encourages people willing to assist their efforts to volunteer or donate products, services or monetary contributions.

“Words are powerful. For people to say they are going to the Peace Fest is a positive thing. I feel that because of the Peace Fest, south Phoenix has become a safer place.”