Best Savior/Villain

Ron Moten
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

Peaceoholics founder Ron Moten says he’s on his way back. Sure, his wingman, ex-Mayor Adrian Fenty, is long gone, and the new mayor, Vince Gray, promised to strip Moten’s anti-gang organization of funding during a tense election. But that hasn’t discouraged Moten, who believes he and Gray may get along yet. “We can’t teach the children to squash beefs if we don’t,” he says.

By the time Fenty lost to Gray last year, Peaceoholics had received more than $10 million in grants and loans since 2005, through city agencies like the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services and the Metropolitan Police Department. In 2008 and 2009, DYRS alone paid the group about $1 million a year. In exchange, they worked with about 22 kids per month, according to records. Much of the money came through no-bid contracts and earmarked for two buildings—one in Congress Heights and another in Trinidad—to become Peaceoholic-run living facilities for at-risk youth.

During its glory days, Peaceoholics was doing so well that Moten and director Jauhar Abraham each made around $100,000 a year. But the days of Moten’s Camelot were numbered. Neighborhood activists didn’t like the idea of having clusters of possibly problematic young men living in their community.

Then there was Moten’s foray into politics, which he hoped would help the brusque Fenty, who had alienated older African American voters, fend off Gray. Moten jumped into the fray with his connections to the District’s go-go scene. Using go-go concerts and music videos, the campaign cast the uptight Fenty as a down brother who’d momentarily lost his way, but who was getting back to his D.C. roots and the sound that exemplified them.

That didn’t work out. Gray took the election, and Moten’s tenacious support of Fenty became a liability. In October, the buildings once slated for Peaceoholics were yanked, and Moten warned his organization was running out of money.

Moten says that kind of controversy is ancient history, though. He’s involved in new projects now; one, the DMV Peace Authority, brings together anti-violence advocates. “It’s a movement, it’s not so much an organization,” Moten explains. And why might D.C. need a movement? “I found out all this shit is a game,” he says. “The people at the top don’t care about poor people.”

If you want to know more about Moten’s perspective on things, you might keep an eye out for a book about the Peaceoholics he’s working on. Moten says the first two chapters have been written, and he’s shopping the text to publishers. If that doesn’t seem like something to take seriously, consider this: Moten seems to have a talent for making stuff happen, no matter how far-fetched. In January, Stevie Wonder showed up at a DMV Peace Authority event and pledged $100,000 for the effort.

I grew up in the kind of treacherous neighborhoods Moten came up in, and know his type. He’s like a stuck faucet, always threatening to overflow with excitement and rage. Every crew had at least one person like him. In a fight, he’d be indispensable, the first person to get your back, to jump into chaos others would quite reasonably try to avoid. But when things were going well, and there was no reason to rock the boat, he was just as likely to tip things toward that chaos for no particular reason. Every day, as you bounded down the porch steps, you’d wonder which you’d meet, the savior or the villain. Last fall, Fenty found that out the hard way.

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