Hours before the start of this afternoon's rally of men willing to serve as peace-keepers on Philadelphia streets, a line stretched for three blocks as volunteers waited to be admitted into the Liacouras Center.
Organizers of 10,000 Men: A Call to Action said they were optimistic about reaching, if not surpassing, their goal of recruiting 10,000 men - especially African-American men - to patrol corners in crime-ridden areas and serve as a visual deterrant to crime.
"I feel great. I'm really glad to see all these people here today. I always felt that we would have a strong turnout," said Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson.
Said Charles "Charlie Mac" Alston, a music and movie producer based in Philadelphia: "I feel wonderful that we have all these people here today. I'm looking for a change. People are looking for a change. This is important for Philadelphia."
As organizer asked, many of those waiting to enter the center on North Broad Street wore black-colored clothing that ranged from T-shirts to suits. About one-fifth of the crowd was composed of women.
The unprecedented effort comes amid a wave of homicides over the last few years in Philadelphia that mostly involved young black men. Last year, there were 406 murders in the city.
Organizers of 10,000 Men: A Call to Action said the project would be the first large-scale effort of its type in the country. Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson has said that cities and towns around the country were watching to gauge the success of the project.
As of Friday, organizers said 4,000 had signed up to participate.
Norm Bond, a spokesman for the event, said today's gathering would also offer services to the men, including health screening, credit counseling, and education counseling for those who want to complete high school, earn a GED certificate or pursue college.
The program is set to start at 2:00 p.m. The event is expected to run about 2 1/2 hours, officials said.
Among the speakers expected are some of the organizers, including movie and music producer Charles "Charlie Mack" Alston, music producer and entrepreneur Kenny Gamble, businessman A. Bruce Crawley and activist Bilal Qayyum, officials said.
Mayor Street, Johnson and scholar-activist Molefi K. Asante are also scheduled. A wide array of community groups, labor unions, churches and fraternaties are participating in the project.
Today's program will also be an information session in which details of the long-term plans will be disclosed.
Orientation for the men will begin in the coming days and weeks with the hope of deploying men to street corners in about a month.
Officials have said that the participants will patrol for three hours a day and that police would back up each patrol.
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