For the past dozen years, I find myself constantly involved in a Ulysses Butch Slaughter inspired project either trough the Chester Housing Authority, the Chester Made organization, or some of his personal efforts. My role usually starts as a sounding board for some original idea he has, then it moves to participation followed by capturing it in words, photos and video.
About 2 years ago, Ulysses shared that he was invited to incorporate his reconciliation expertise in the Philadelphia MOVE situation in an effort to get MOVE members and former Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode to come to some accord. My initial response was ‘OH?’
Curiosity got the best of me and I started following the journey of Ulysses and his mission to make an apology happen. The ride has been nothing short of fascinating.
Whatever you think it is, it’s not. Whatever you think you know, there’s a lot more you don’t know. When you thought the story was over, it never got a full start. If you think it’s a waste of time, it turns out to be a story that will live on for a very long time.
Since Ulysses started this journey, so much has happened; so many people have come forward to tell their stories; so many buried truths have been uncovered; so many myths have been refuted. At times it’s been hard to watch the toll this project has taken on Ulysses’ as his passion to get to the goal line is constantly challenged by something that moves the line further away than it seems. The resilience he’s displayed in this process his indeed noble.
I’ve accompanied Ulysses and sat in rooms with reporters, witnesses, W. Wilson Goode, MOVE members, victims, supporters, opponents, jurors, family members, and young people who had no idea about what the MOVE situation is all about. It’s been emotional, inspiring, confusing, surprising, historic, and disappointing all at the same time.
Even when the key players have said no, Ulysses has pressed on culminating in writing and submitting to each Philadelphia City Council member a request that they formally apologize on behalf of the city for how they handled the MOVE situation. To date, there have been a few of them who have expressed their support.
Did you know, on the day of the Philadelphia MOVE bombing in 1985, there was a MOVE family gassed out of their home in Chester, PA that same morning? The current Chester City government has been asked to consider apologizing and refused.
Here’s a portion of the apology letter sent to Philadelphia City Council:
RESOLVED FURTHER THAT THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, Hereby:
(1) APOLOGIZES FOR THE DECISIONS LEADING TO THE DEVASTATION THAT OCCURRED ON MAY 13TH 1985.—The COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA—
(A) acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of the decisions and actions that led to the death of 11 citizens on May 13th, 1985;
(B) expresses its regret for the ramifications of former wrongs and its commitment to build on the positive relationships of the past and present to move toward a brighter future where all the people of this land live reconciled as citizens, and harmoniously steward and protect this land together;
(C) apologizes to MOVE members, family, residents, police officers, fire fighters and public servants, on behalf of the people of Philadelphia, for the wrongs committed; and
(D) expresses its recommitment to the principle that all people are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and calls on all people of the City of Philadelphia to work toward eliminating racial prejudices, injustices, and discrimination from our society.
The key to all this is section ‘C’ where Ulysses insists this apology isn’t just about the city apologizing to MOVE. Ulysses stresses this atrocity harmed so many more people who deserve an apology. The police officers and firefighters who suffered mental anguish performing their duties on that day deserve an apology. The children who watched their neighborhood burn deserve an apology. The home owners who had their homes destroyed deserve an apology. The public servants who had no idea a bomb was going to drop deserve an apology.
When you learn of the one public servant who didn’t know the bomb was going to drop, it will blow your mind.
In the past couple months, Ulysses and I have recorded hours of discussions and interviews with people on every side of this issue to assemble into podcast episodes. Some people bailed out at the last minute still afraid to talk and others have come forward to share aspects of this story proving how much of this historic event never has been fully fleshed out. Remarkably, with every new conversation, a new fact or person pops up to keep the conversation going.
Even for me, listening and questioning Ulysses on why he presses forward with this project only deepens my appreciation for his skill, talent and passion for the importance and impact of reconciliation. He’s uniquely built for this and in the end (if there is an end), it will serve to help many people and rewrite history.
In recognition of the importance of this effort, The Guardian published an article on the MOVE reconciliation project today. It doesn’t hurt to get this type of worldwide coverage to move things along, huh?