The House of Umoja, meaning “unity” in Swahili, began operating in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1968 as a unique grassroots program initiated by community residents David and Falaka Fattah. Using their own resources and their home as a base of operations, they created this family-centered community institution that has effectively mediated gang conflicts and has come to serve as a source of counsel and individual development for neighborhood gang and nongang youth. The target group is African-American, male, at-risk youths ages 15–18 who have suffered from abuse (physical, emotional, psychological), neglect, or lack of family support. The setting is a strip of 23 row houses in Philadelphia.
House of Umoja stresses the importance of traditional cultural norms of the African-American community and instills African-American youths with the life skills necessary to halt self-destructive behavior that results in premature death. The family model provides a sense of belonging, identity, and self-worth that was previously sought by many young men through gang membership. Through “reparenting” (adults who act as parents, giving youth unconditional love, clear standards of behavior, and constant availability) and by providing role models, the House of Umoja has successfully transformed hundreds of frightened, frustrated, and alienated young minority males into self-assured, competent, concerned, and productive citizens. Among the program’s activities are individual and group counseling, educational support, cultural activities, parent education, and family planning skills. To build self-esteem and promote physical, cognitive, emotional, moral, social, and sexual development, the program’s activities are offered within the context of extended family as defined by the African culture. Involvement of family members and other significant persons in the treatment program is critical to the success of each individual. Although the House of Umoja provides direct social services to return youths to their families, some residents enter into independent living arrangements linked to appropriate community services.
Eight characteristics are associated with the House of Umoja’s success:
National Gang Center: Effective program structure
Mr. Robert L. Woodson, President
Center for Neighborhood Enterprise
1625 K Street, NW, Suite 1200
Washington, DC 20006
Phone: (202) 518-6500 or Toll-Free (866) 518-6500
Fax: (202) 588-0314
National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. (1999). Violence-Free Zone Initiatives. Washington, DC: National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise.
Woodson, R. L. (1981). A Summons to Life: Mediating Structures and the Prevention of Youth Crime. Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Company.