The roar and purr of 800 bikes, gleaming and glinting under orange-clad riders and stretching along LA’s Crenshaw Boulevard, were enough to grab attention. Yet the sheer volume of riders on this Sunday afternoon, or their distinctive color, wasn’t the only sign that this was no ordinary bike ride.
Rather, the procession was the vanguard of a movement called United in Peace born in the streets of Los Angeles. Created by two prominent community leaders—Minister Tony Muhammad of the Nation of Islam and Reverend Alfreddie Johnson, founder of the World Literacy Crusade—the movement saturates neighborhoods with the team’s weapon of choice against gang warfare and neighborhood ills: The Way to Happiness. L. Ron Hubbard’s common sense guide to better living has been distributed internationally and has an established record of reducing crime and violence in its wake.
Minister Muhammad knew the power of the booklet because of his interface with the community and having dealt with the consequences of gang violence. He saw the means to multiply the booklet’s impact and help diminish LA’s gang violence, which has plagued the region since the 1970s. He then enlisted another prevalent force in the streets of Los Angeles: the multitude of motorcycle and car clubs.
“I see a lot of faces that I’ve never seen come together like this before. I believe you’re here because you want change.”
Over the last two years, the Peace Rides they started have grown from dozens to hundreds of riders at a time, crisscrossing gang territories and extending 100 square miles to communities from Compton to Lancaster. On each ride, the likes of the Black Stallions, East Side Riders Bike Club and National Lowriders carry The Way to Happiness and its constructive message into parks, alleyways, malls—wherever the people are.
Extending farther still, the team organized a ride to Washington, D.C., in October 2015 as part of the “Justice or Else!” rally held on the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, an event that drew hundreds of thousands to the National Mall.
Meanwhile in various cities, street violence flared in the wake of multiple police shootings of black men and the killing of police officers in retribution. Those developments inspired Minister Muhammad to go the extra mile in Los Angeles.
It began with an invitation to the South Central community, sent out from rap music hitmaker The Game on Instagram: There would be a meeting at the Church of Scientology Community Center to address LA’s gang violence that has plagued South LA hoods for decades.
That call to action was answered by more than 2,400 people, who gathered at the Community Center, on South Vermont Avenue, on July 17, 2016. The crowds streamed into the Center’s L. Ron Hubbard Auditorium, which overflowed with gang members.
What followed was a watershed summit for the city—or as one LA newscaster phrased it, “hell has frozen over.” Joining in was a roster of high-profile city and entertainment leaders, from will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas and popular radio host Big Boy, to LA Police Chief Charlie Beck and Mayor Eric Garcetti.
But members of rival gangs, predominantly the Bloods and the Crips, who have battled for turf on these streets for decades, were the most significant participants.
Gang interventionists, the families of those in the crossfire of gang violence, community activists and members also attended.
As Rev. Benny “Taco” Owens, founder of the Detours gang intervention organization, told the crowd, “I see a lot of faces that I’ve never seen come together like this before. I believe you’re here because you want change.”
That change, as The Game pointed out, begins at home. “Before we can get our lives to matter to anyone else,” he said, “we have to show our lives matter to us.”
The summit culminated in a historic truce: the Bloods and Crips 2016 Peace Treaty, July 17th Ceasefire Agreement. The truce was described in news reports as “Historic summit in the name of peace.” Just as noteworthy, police statistics noted gang violence subsequently dropped 40 percent.
“I think it was like the cracking of an atom,” said Minister Tony Muhammad. “It sparked something in everybody. It sparked the spirit of hope that once again we’re at a pivotal point in our history and we can make a difference in our own community.”