The roots of the WC’s youth violence reduction initiative were in a program in Philadelphia, PA known as the House of Umoja, which stopped gang violence throughout Philadelphia in the early 1980’s. Robert L. Woodson, Sr. learned the principles of youth violence reduction and gang peace negotiations from Sister Falakah Fattah and her husband David, founders of the House of Umoja. He applied these principles to finding other grassroots organizations around the country that had the capacity to do the same kind of work. Learning from all of them, he documented and developed the principles that became the basis of the Violence-Free Zone initiative.
In January, 1997, when a 12-year-old boy was shot and killed in violence between rival youth factions in a crime-ridden Washington, DC public housing development, WC coached and supported a local grassroots group named the Alliance of Concerned Men as they brought the leaders of the two warring factions to the WC’s offices to negotiate a truce. Using strategies learned from the Philadelphia experience, Bob Woodson and the Alliance helped craft a peace agreement among warring factions in Washington, D.C.’s Benning Terrace public housing development, where fighting had led to more than 50 youth deaths in previous years.
Once the young people agreed to sign a peace pact, D.C. Housing Receiver David Gilmore offered to provide jobs in the Housing Authority’s maintenance program, and a program of employment and life skills was created as an alternative to the drug and crime-filled lifestyle they had agreed to leave.