On Tuesday night, for two nerve-wracking minutes, South Philadelphia gun violence activist Anton Moore will find himself in the sights of something potentially life-changing: The entire arena of the Wells Fargo Center and the American TV audience for the Democratic National Convention.
This week, the 30-year-old founder/CEO of Unity in the Community is still trying to figure out how this happened—and how scared he should be. He says someone from Clinton’s campaign called him and said they’d been hearing his name a lot, and asked him to send in a headshot and bio. Three days later, they invited him to speak. (Three other local social service workers and activists are also speaking.) “I’m going on at 8 p.m. Is that prime time?,” he says. “Oooh my God! All those people will be watching me? I’m a little nervous, yeah.”
Moore’s DNC invite is a sign of just how different next week’s convention is likely to be from what happened in Cleveland this week for the (might-as-well-be NRA-sponsored) Republican Convention. For one thing, he’s African American. (Of the nearly 2,500 delegates in Cleveland, only 18 are African American.)
He was an organizer for Pres. Obama’s campaigns, helping to set up the national DJs 4 Obama initiative (which led him to meet the president in 2014). He grew up in neighborhoods—the former Tasker Homes at 29th and Morris streets, and later at 20th and Snyder Avenue—where guns are not the hunting implements of a young Donald Trump, Jr., but the instruments of continuous fury and misery.
To Moore, Peace Week has one other side benefit: It gets politicians and city leaders into his neighborhood, even when they’re not courting votes, to talk to real citizens, in real need, in areas of the city some don’t want to think about. “Deep in these neighborhoods are the people that are going to be deciding these elections,” he says.
A former producer at Black Entertainment Television, Moore started Unity in the Community 12 years ago in response to the violence and poverty he witnessed in his neighborhood. In addition to its signature annual summer block party on Snyder Avenue—where performers like Trina, Angela Simmons, Meek Mill, DJ Diamond Kuts and Jazmine have entertained thousands—Unity runs peace rallies, interventions, jobs outreach, town halls, school visits and mentoring to try to reduce the number of shootings in South Philly. Last year, Moore led a series of protests and conversations that eventually led to a ban on the sale and possession of BB guns in Philly, a reaction to the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was holding a toy gun when a police officer killed him in Cleveland.
At a time when young black activists are having a moment through Black Lives Matter (and the seemingly constant tragedies they are fighting against), Moore is a different sort of political operative. No doubt what attracted him to Clinton’s team is his on-the-ground work in South Philly, and his pointed approach to activism. Rather than marches that disrupt whole cities, he advocates targeted protests outside the local offices of legislators, like House Speaker Paul Ryan, who stand in the way of gun laws. “We need to be in his district, where he serves, paralyzing everything,” he says. “Then Paul Ryan will be getting calls from back in his district about what’s going on there. He’ll have to listen.”
On stage, though, Moore says his message will be something we need more of in these charged times: A call for peace. “I’m going to talk about the need for unity across the board,” he says. “In the U.S., we’re divided. We all need to do a little soul searching about what we want America to look like. It shouldn’t be Christians vs. Muslims, Whites vs. Blacks, police vs. community. It should be the U.S.: United States of America.”
This is the same message Moore will bring to Unity in the Community’s fifth annual Peace Week, to be held July 31st through August 6th, in South Philadelphia. Every day that week, Unity will hold a community-building event aimed at steering residents—especially young men—away from a life of violence.
The week will kick off that Sunday, with a charity softball game at Smith Playground with Police Commissioner Richard Ross throwing the first pitch. The week will also include a peace march between two neighborhoods Moore says have been warring—the old Tasker Homes and Wilson Park, with Power99’s Mikey Dredd and Councilman Kenyatta Johnson; a “Ball 4 Peace” basketball game; a free criminal record expungement clinic; a gun violence town hall meeting; and—on Saturday, August 6th—the annual block party.
Moore advocates targeted protests outside the local offices of legislators, like House Speaker Paul Ryan, who stand in the way of gun laws. “We need to be in his district, where he serves, paralyzing everything,” he says. “Then Paul Ryan will be getting calls from back in his district about what’s going on there. He’ll have to listen.”
Moore says he expects several thousands of Philadelphians, from all over the city, to attend the events. “There is no single way to stop the violence in the community,” he says. “We are rallying everyone—the mayor, the governor, radio stations, community members—to stress the need to put the guns down.”
To Moore, who actively works on get-out-the-vote projects and will push voter registration at all the events, Peace Week has one other side benefit: It gets politicians and city leaders into his neighborhood, even when they’re not courting votes, to talk to real citizens, in real need, in areas of the city some don’t want to think about. “Philadelphia does a horrible job of engaging communities in off-election years,” he says. “Deep in these neighborhoods are the people that are going to be deciding these elections.”
If that’s true, then having Moore on center stage at the DNC can only help Clinton. For Moore, it’s a big moment, for sure, but it is not the end of the work he has to do.
“I think it’s going to be an amazing opportunity for me and Unity in the Community,” Moore says. “It’s like I’m in a football game and caught a touchdown pass. But when I get the ball back in my hands, I got to just get back to what I’ve been doing.”Photo header: Flickr/Knight Foundation