by Curtis Bunn, Urban News Service
Washington – Minister Louis Farrakhan called for an end to police violence against African Americans and demanded a halt to Black-on-Black crime, which kills more inner-city men than all other causes combined.
The Nation of Islam leader used the occasion of the 20th anniversary commemoration of the Million Man March at the steps of the U.S. Capitol to condemn the loss of life of Blacks. In his two-hour and 20-minute address, Farrakhan cited from the Bible and the Quran, discussed the history of white supremacy and fired salvos at what he dubbed so-called leaders who will sell out for money.
“Our war is on two fronts,” he said, “the inner-city and police wickedness. Preachers, you’re the most important. Take Dr. Martin Luther King’s philosophy of nonviolence and redirect it to Black people. We have to teach to love one another and to love your neighbor.”
Farrakhan’s message, delivered under a pale blue sky with streaks of billowy clouds, was, at times, pointed. “It’s hypocritical to say we’re citizens when we’re denied civil rights … human rights,” he said.
At another point, the 82-year-old who organized the 1995 MMM that was dubbed “A Day of Atonement,” asked, “What good is life if there is no freedom? What good is life if you see people suffering in tyranny? … What good are we if we don’t prepare our young people to carry the torch of liberation? We will not forsake our duties.”
He called on “honest” leadership to be at the forefront of influencing change. “It grieves me that many are willing to take a little money to upgrade their cars, to upgrade their suits, to upgrade their shoes,” he said about Black leaders. “All corruption is an enemy to the progression of many.”
Many of his points were received with uproarious approval. Among the thousands who descended on Washington – a crowd that was much younger than 20 years ago and with more women – was Dorothy Hill of Buffalo. At 80, she jumped into her car and drove 401 miles from Buffalo to hear Farrakhan and to feel the spirit of the occasion.
“What good is life if there is no freedom? What good is life if you see people suffering in tyranny? … What good are we if we don’t prepare our young people to carry the torch of liberation? We will not forsake our duties.”
“I just had to be here,” she said. “Too much is happening to the Black community for me to just sit home.”
Hill’s seven-hour drive reflected her desperation – and that of many African Americans across the country—for change amid recent, high-profile deaths of Black males, either at the hands of or in police custody.
“I have lived through a lot,” she said. “But these times in 2015 are more difficult for Black people than they should be. Coming here is a statement about how concerned we are.”
Beneath the banner “Justice or Else,” this march appeared different from the Oct. 20, 1995, event. The thrust of that occasion involved Black men being better husbands, fathers and sons.
Along with talk of unity and brotherhood, Saturday’s tone was decidedly more aggressive than at the original gathering. Speaker after speaker demanded that law enforcement be held accountable for what they called unruly and deadly actions against Blacks.
The crowd, estimated at close to a million at its peak, cheered any mention of retribution for lost Black lives.
“We didn’t come to D.C. to play games,” said Tamika Mallory, the national coordinator for Justice or Else. “My father was among more than a million men here in 1995. But we gather again knowing that much is at stake … Let us remember the words of Ida B. Wells: ‘The murderers are the ones who write the reports.’ … (But) we will not allow injustice to go unnoticed.”
An estimated 400 bus trips were organized from across the country into Washington. Speakers included Hispanics, Native Americans and people from other backgrounds.
Victor Pearson of suburban Baltimore came with four boys from his neighborhood, ages 11 through 14. He maneuvered with them through the crowd and told them to look for his grey and black hat if they got disconnected.
“They could get lost in this crowd, but I wouldn’t be worried. That’s how much love is in the air,” Pearson, 38, said. “I don’t have children, but it was important that I bring them along so they can feel the love that is so evident here. I was here as a teenager in ‘95. To come back now, I knew I needed to bring some young people with me. They needed to experience this. I could have told them about it. But it would not have been the same. You can only get this feeling from being here, not someone telling you about it.”
Speaker after speaker demanded that law enforcement be held accountable for what they called unruly and deadly actions against Blacks.
“I was in prison when they had the first one,” Joe Wilburn of Southern California said. “I told myself that if there was another one, I wouldn’t miss it. And I feel blessed to be among such a feeling of positive people who want to see equal rights for all. That’s not asking a lot. It’s only fair. And having been through what I’ve been through, I had to come to be a part of something meaningful. I feel good about myself.”
Most of the nearly two dozen speakers called for change in the judicial process and advocated rules that would make it easier to prosecute police misconduct. Those at the podium also targeted politicians.
“To those running for president,” said Rev. Jamal Bryant of Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore, “if you can’t say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ you’re not qualified to run the United States.”
“It’s a growing movement, not a moment,” said one Black Lives Matter organizer. “We are under siege. All of us. Pulling our pants up won’t save us. Our college degrees won’t save us. Middle class status won’t save us. They’ve declared war on us … Black Lives Matter is a rallying cry … It’s recognition that we have all within us to win.
“Today is a watershed moment. ‘Or else’ means we will no longer accept the murder of our people. It is by design … and it is our duty to fight for freedom.”
Hill said she would drive back to Buffalo feeling replenished from her experience and hopeful for change.
“There’s a lot to be done, and I hope all the change that was talked about becomes reality,” she said. “It was a powerful day just to be here. Everyone felt like family. I’m glad I came. I can go home knowing I was a part of something very special.”
Million Man March vendors value the experience more than the money
Tony Blair had nowhere to sell his wares at Saturday’s Million Man March. But he came anyway. With a table and boxes of T-shirts, buttons and key chains, Blair and his team of three from Chicago set up on the National Mall, about 800 yards from the Capitol steps.
“I just came,” Blair said. “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. But we came. It was about business, but it wasn’t about business, you know what I mean? Obviously, I want to sell my stuff. But it’s more about the moment. If I sell one item, that’s a good day for me in this place.”
Blair was one of countless T-shirt and paraphernalia merchants who bypassed the official permit process and established impromptu sales stations during the nearly five-hour event. “No one said anything to me,” Roland Williamson of Washington, D.C., said. “I just got to work.”
“I wish I had known you could just set up anywhere,” Kevin Mumphy said. He sold a variety of T-shirts at the first MMM, but had to operate about four blocks away, he said. Mumphy could not get a permit for space closer to the action. This year, he acquired a permit.
“You come here to make money. … But here, the business side just isn’t as important. It’s the importance of the moment – that is why I’m here. It’s not an ordinary day. Look at the people. It’s like a family reunion. We’re here for some very serious reasons – we want justice. We want police to protect us, not kill us. That’s why this day is important. That’s the real reason I’m here. Business is secondary.”
“Sure, I’m making money and probably going to sell out,” Michael Varrick of Falls Church, Virginia said. “People love having something to commemorate this day. But the money won’t be worth more than seeing my people out here for change, out here for justice. Like the minister (Farrakhan) said, we have to pass the torch to the young folks who will be the leaders of the future. To see these teenagers and 20-somethings here – that’s what makes this worthwhile for me.”
“You come here to make money. … But here, the business side just isn’t as important. It’s the importance of the moment – that is why I’m here.”
After the MMM, much of Seventh Street Northwest north of Pennsylvania Avenue was packed with people scrounging for T-shirts, hats, refrigerator magnets, bracelets — anything with “Million Man March,” “Justice or Else” or “Black Lives Matter” emblazoned on it.
“I can say almost for a fact that everyone who sold anything of quality had a good day; business was good,” Williamson said. “I can also almost say for a fact that this was the most rewarding event for any of us. You get the best of both worlds: customers in good spirits who want your stuff and to be a small part of something that’s really important. To be here – I’ve talked about it with other vendors. Being here, for this event, means everything.”
Curtis Bunn is a national award-winning journalist and best-selling author of seven novels. He covers general news and has written about some of the largest events and personalities in sports for more than three decades at The Washington Times, N.Y. Newsday, The New York Daily News, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other media outlets. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Women left mark on Million Man March
by Michael H. Cottman and Courtney Bledsoe, Urban News Service
Washington – The most surprising element of Saturday’s Million Man March was its women. The 20th anniversary celebration of 1995’s landmark gathering included women of all racial origins, religions, creeds and cultures. They filled the National Mall from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial.
Christian women wore jeans. Muslim women donned veils. Palestinian women dressed in head scarves. Native American women appeared in their traditional clothing. Latino women spoke of justice for all people of color. White women also joined the crusade.
Women stood next to their husbands and boyfriends. Women held their babies. Women waved signs that read: “Black Lives Matter.” Women said they traveled from all across the country to offer moral support for African-American men.
Holding a sign that said, “Black Is Still Beautiful,” Howard University student Jalisa Goodwin said she feels strongly about her role as an African-American woman and proudly supports Black men.
“If you look at the history of liberation struggles, Black women have always been a part of the movement and have always been leading the movement,” Goodwin said. “As a sister, I say if I want to be loved and I want to be supported, then I have to love and support. The intersection of being Black and being a woman is where we meet, and when we meet, we advocate for each other.”
“I have a son – and from Sandra Bland to Trayvon Martin, I don’t want to have to teach my son that he has to fear the people who are supposed to protect him,” said Ebony Peterson, a Prairie View A&M University student, who traveled from Texas to Washington to join the march.
“We need justice; the system is unjust,” she said. “We’re tired. It’s time to do something. We have to fix our own community, and we can’t depend on anybody else to fix it. We have to fix it ourselves.”
Saturday’s “Justice or Else” movement appeared to draw a much younger crowd than the first Million Man March.
“If you look at the history of liberation struggles, Black women have always been a part of the movement and have always been leading the movement,” Goodwin said.
“I feel a huge generational responsibility to be here today,” said Angel Dye, a Howard University student. “I think it’s significant that this is happening when we are in our 20s. At the time of the original march, we were babies.
“Often times we don’t look for the recognition. We’re doing it for larger reasons than ourselves,” Dye said. “But I think it’s important now that we demand that kind of equality and that kind of respect within our communities, because we are the helm of our communities. We’re community builders, and we’re gatekeepers. So my role here today, as a woman, is to essentially affirm to myself that I matter as a Black woman within the Black community.”
Michael Cottman, award-winning journalist and author, is senior correspondent for BlackAmericaWeb.com, part of the nation’s largest black-owned media company. He covers the White House and can be reached via email@example.com.