Jacqueline Taylor-Adams (center), development director for the House of Umoja and program director of the Youth Peace Corps, poses with three of her summer program students, (from left) Brielle Bartley, 16, Hameen Jackson, 15, and Jaelyn Mack, 14. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

💡 Get Philly smart 💡
with BP’s free daily newsletter

Read the news of the day in less than 10 minutes — not that we’re counting.

It’s not easy growing up in Philadelphia right now with the heightened gun violence, but a recent showcase of an forthcoming documentary is giving some teens hope for solutions. 

“It’s for me a sad situation because of losing so many people around me… we need to find a way to solve it,” Keyssh Datts, a college student and aspiring filmmaker, told Billy Penn.

Datts contributed to the documentary “Falaka Fattah & The House of Umoja” as a videographer. The process included mentorship from Jos Duncan Asé, the founder of Love Now Media, which is producing the film. The whole experience was uplifting, Datts said. 

The House of Umoja is a grassroots organization founded in 1968 by David and Falaka Fattah, who opened their West Philadelphia home to boys and adolescent males as a direct response to rising gang conflict. The House of Umoja became an internationally recognized model for gang violence reduction, youth programming, and community organizing. In 1974, Fattah helped broker a famous “Imani Peace Pact.” In the years following, homicides dropped.

Learning the story of Falaka Fattah’s efforts to bring peace to the community was inspiring, Datts said: “She’s someone who makes me feel like you can make change when you fight for liberation.” 

Working on the project helped show to Datts that one of the biggest obstacles in fighting against gun violence is the disconnect between youths and adults like parents, teachers, and police. 

The city’s gun violence epidemic has been especially evident with youths. People under 18 made up about 10% of the city’s shooting victims in 2022, according to data from the Office of the City Controller — nearly 250 young lives disrupted by bullet wounds, 36 of them fatal, ended way too early. 

In an effort to look toward evidence-based solutions and bring peace to Philadelphia’s streets and youths today, WHYY hosted a community conversation at the African American Museum that screened Asé’s in-progress film and looked back at the efforts of the House of Umoja.

Now more than 90 years old, Falakah Fattah herself made an appearance via Zoom, delighting the audience.

During the panel discussion after the screening, filmmaker Asé recalled a valuable anecdote. While filming an interview with a former House of Umoja resident, she kept getting interrupted by four kids who repeatedly ran past the camera, throwing a football and generally distracting from the video.

The interviewee was visibly upset when his request to the young kids to stop was ignored. Asé used the family-centered philosophy of House of Umoja, which involves making decisions together as a team, to handle the situation.

“I told the four young men, ‘Come over here,’’’ Asé recalled. “I put one on the microphone, one on the camera, and I had two directing. Those young men got behind the camera and became a part of what was going on.” 

She described how effective the approach was: reaching out to them in a way that didn’t humiliate, but rather encouraged them.

“We have to evolve, we have to work together as a community,” Asé said. The documentary is targeting a September release date, and is accepting donations to help complete production.

The House of Umoja’s model of building community and trust to uplift the spirit of the neighborhood has helped transform the lives of over 3,000 young people in the five decades since it began. Learning about the organization and its philosophy left a strong impression on youth who worked on the project. 

“We need to breathe together,” said Datts, the student videographer who worked on the film. “If all the generations connect we really can move stuff forward.”