Civil rights activist Jesse Epps and members of the group God’s Love at Work (G.L.A.W.) held a ribbon cutting ceremony to announce its “Common Unity Launch Pad,” at 60th and Master streets in West Philadelphia on Friday Sept. 7.
The group, consisting of formerly incarcerated men, was joined by members of the community outside a makeshift prison cell where founder, Michael Ta’bon, spoke to those gathered wearing orange prison jumpsuits with handcuffs and a ball and chain to share the group’s message: “Jail is for suckers.”
During the event, members of G.L.A.W. joined with local officials, activists, residents and members of the 19th police district to bridge, what Ta’bon called, the disconnect between law enforcement and members of the community.
“If it was just the drug dealers who said there was an issue with the police than you could chalk it up to the drug dealers, but when regular neighbors are complaining, than I think there is a disconnect caused by a lack of communication,” he said.
Ta’bon, who stood on stage with Epps and a police captain from the 19th district, called the occasion, “the proper introduction of the police to the community.
“If there is always a criminal to commit a crime than there should always be someone available to help them not to do it,” he said. “We might be that sanctuary more or less.”
Knowing the people may be one way of helping to bridge the disconnect and establishing mutual respect between law enforcement and the residents they are sworn to serve and protect, according to Ta’bon.
“We are called the city of brotherly love but you can’t really love something that you don’t know,” he said. “If we are going to live up to that name, we are going to have to make proper introductions so that people can know one another and that knowledge will lead to self-respect.”
Helping to prevent others from making the mistakes they themselves have made is a key goal of G.L.A.W. As a part of this effort, the organization attempts to dispel the myths about prison life and to strip it of some of the glamour it seems to have among those seeking to establish street credibility.
The prison cell and orange prison jumpsuits help dramatize the consequences awaiting those contemplating committing crimes or reoffending after being released from serving time.
The group is currently constructing a community center where youth can find a safe haven during what officials call the most dangerous hours of the day for young people,
“This represents a new marriage in our community,” said Epps in reference to Ta’bon and the members of the 19th police district whose captain stood arm-in-arm outside the makeshift cell. “We are going to create in our neighborhoods a community of family, neighbors, brothers and sisters; one family, the American way.”
Epps said the city is currently spending more money on incarceration than education and the combined mutual efforts of such organizations as G.L.A.W. and law enforcement could change that from happening.
“The problem is that we focus on those things which separate us more than we do those things which bring us together,” he said.
According to materials released by G.L.A.W., Epps was inducted in the Civil Rights Hall of Fame for his work with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and President Lyndon B. Johnson and served as keynote speaker during the ceremony.
Brandon T. Jones, winner of the Knights Foundation’s Black Male Engagement Awards, used the award money to help build the community center at 60th and Master streets. Volunteer ex-offenders built the center.