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Nonviolence at the Center of Annual Cookout

In the year that he’s practiced boxing, Elijah Mitchell said his discipline and knowledge of self had increased substantially, crediting the sport as a means of channeling his energy and serving as an example those in his peer group who endorse deadlier ways to resolve conflict.

The light welterweight’s mission continued last weekend as he joined other young boxers in the ring during an afternoon of fellowship, reflection and redemption at what’s been touted as one of D.C.’s most peaceful annual gatherings for more than a decade.

“It starts from your youth. When [young people] are in the streets and adults don’t care, they do anything to get clothes and food,” Mitchell, 20, said as he sat among hundreds of Black men, women and children who converged Saturday afternoon on Upshur Recreation Center in Northwest on during Cease Fire, Don’t Smoke the Brothers and Sisters’ 11th annual cookout and amateur boxing tournament.

As community members indulged in burgers, beef hot dogs, warm mac & cheese, baked beans and other summertime cookout delights, Mitchell sipped water and patiently waited his turn to jump into a large black boxing ring erected just feet away from where he sat, all the while relishing the opportunity to take part in a staple summertime event.

“[A lot of young people] don’t have any love in their family so they join gangs,” said Mitchell, a Waldorf, Md., resident. “As a community, we have to stick together. The ghetto is in our mind and we’ve been brainwashed to be individuals instead of coming together. We’ve been cursed, but all of that could change.”

The Aug. 25 gathering took place less than a week after police officers found Travis Barksdale, 25, dead in Northeast in what’s been marked as the District’s 100th homicide this year. The young man joined Makiyah Wilson, 10, and other children, teenagers and adult adolescents who succumbed to violence over the summer.

Earlier that week, hours after D.C. public school students wrapped up their first day of school, a couple young people in Southeast suffered gunshot wounds. In a viral Facebook post last Tuesday, D.C. Councilman Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), standing outside of Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in Northeast where a bullet pierced a young man’s leg the night before, appealed to constituents for solutions.

Since 2008, Cease Fire, Don’t Smoke the Brothers and Sisters has united Black people, particularly the formerly incarcerated, around curbing violent crime, providing a space for residents of all ages to gather peacefully. This year’s event, in conjunction with the Universal Madness clothing brand and Potomac Valley Boxing Gym in Northeast, featured Eminence Band, Wisdom Speeks, Jett Black DC, and AGS, also known as The Lorton Legends, as musical acts.

Throughout much of the day, young men played basketball and children gleefully slid down a large inflated slide shaped like a firetruck. Elders, sitting on blankets under large tents, lined the hills of Upshur Recreation Center while member of the Nation of Islam, in fitted black, blue and brown suits, doled out copies of The Final Call and embraced visitors.

“We never said we can stop all of the killings, but we’re the brothers who used to be part of the problem who are now the antidote,” said Al-Malik Farrakhan, key organizer of the 11th annual gathering and advocate for returning citizens, as he greeted longtime friends and comrades and helped the DJ solve a minor sound issue.

“We can give supreme wisdom about not being each other’s enemy,” Farrakhan, sporting a cream shirt with the image of the late D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, said as he alluded to the bloodshed of the 1980s and ’90s. “One death is one too many, but compared to what we had before, we’re doing good. I asked the police not to be here because we can police our own. We want people to take the same thing to their communities.”

As she looked around the spacious park, Gwendolyn Harper, a D.C. transplant from Louisiana who raised her two sons in the District for more than a decade, had similar thoughts about expanding the peaceful gathering to other parts of the city at a time when violence has ravaged Black communities.

“I wondered why they don’t have an event like this [east of the Anacostia River] because Ward 7 has seen so much violence this summer,” said Harper, 37, a Northeast resident also known as Gigi. “It’s important that we stand together, because we’re a generation that’s dying. I always share these experiences with my young ones. We go wherever; I expose them to different part of our culture, so they know that [the street the live on] is not just their experience.”

Not far from where Harper stood, her 13-year-old son, sporting a red cap, helped Brother Carvelas Muhammad, also known as the Pie Man of D.C., sell bean pies and those of other flavors to passersby. The charismatic Muhammad warmly and enthusiastically addressed visitors as “Black man,” “sir” and “ma’am,'” at times even turning the reluctant into loyal customers with a sample slice.

However, when it came to more serious matters, specifically those concerning President Donald J. Trump and the conditions of Black people in the United States, Muhammad had more of a prophetic tone, warning of a time when Black men would collectively set their sights on the forces he consider the people’s true enemy.

“When volcanoes erupt, only God can stop them,” Muhammad said. “When the Black man erupts again, it’ll make 1968 look like a picnic. We’re scared to shed blood but kill each other every weekend. This is the importance of this event; there’s free food for Black people. America can feed the whole world, but she throws food away. So hateful and foul.”

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