It’s time to Break It Down!
Tomorrow will mark the 19th Anniversary of the Million Man March (MMM). Before moving to the narrative, I know there are those who are disturbed that I would deign to conflate or equate The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom; the March of A. Phillip Randolph, of Bayard Rustin, and of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I understand completely, and that is not what I’m doing.
On August 27th and 28th, 1963, I was nine years old. My participation came courtesy of my vantage point, seated in front of our 19-inch Black & White TV. It was informative, and inspiring, but it was not in-person (for me). Rustin, Randolph, King, and their co-participants and contemporaries, through their actions, reframed the trajectory of the landscape of American society, as we knew it. All of us are forever in their debt…each and every one of us. If you are an American today, whether you were born by then, or lived here at that time, if you are here now, you are obliged to credit, or blame if you choose, them for the country we have become.
By October 16, 1995, I was forty-something. I had been aware of the planning and development of the Million Man March from its early stages. From the outset, I was committed that this time, I would be fully present and accounted for. This time, timing was on my side. I actually had a job that made it not only acceptable, but also desirable to be there. I went, on my own aegis, not for work. But with a job title, Minority Affairs Director, I had no doubt; it was meant for me to be there.
Most of the rest of this post will be devoted to a verbatim recounting of an essay I wrote about my first person experience attending the March. The essay was one of three that appeared in the November 1995 Edition of OUTLOOK (Vol. 26 No. 11), the Newsmagazine for employees of Mecklenburg County, NC. All three were captured under the broad heading, “Reflections on the Million Man March.”
Here’s my essay:
For me, this event was at once a culmination and a commencement.
Nearly a year ago Minister Louis Farrakhan spoke here in Charlotte and announced plans for a Million Man March to be held in Washington, D.C. I left the Convention Center that evening committed to be at the March. My interest and enthusiasm culminated with my participation on Monday, October 16, 1995.
The March also was the point of commencement for the strategies and action to create positive and deeply rooted change in the social fabric of our individual communities and in the entire nation.
Though estimates of the actual attendance are in dispute, whether the number was 400,000 or more than a million, the turnout was epic. By the former measure, it is the largest civil rights rally in the history of this country; the latter would make it simply the largest gathering ever on the Washington Mall.
Being there was to be engulfed by the spirit of the moment; surrounded by a sea of positively focused humanity. It was an endeavor whose moment had come. It had to be done!
The day was characterized by its organizers as a time for collective atonement, reconciliation, responsibility, and absence: atonement for having been AWOL from familial responsibility; reconciliation to the women, children, families, and communities that had been abandoned; responsibility for our own actions and the consequences of those actions; and absence from normal daily employment and consumption (buying) patterns. These steps underscore the seriousness of our circumstances, and provide a vehicle to penetrate the nation’s consciousness. (Mission accomplished).
Minister Farrakhan and the Reverend Benjamin Chavis are correctly viewed as principal symbols of “The March.” They played central roles in conceiving and organizing the effort. In the final analysis however, “The March” belonged to THE PEOPLE. No one, two, or twenty individuals could adequately represent the total spectrum of this undertaking. It spanned wide ranges of economy, geography, religion, politics, ideology, age, gender, disability, and general point of view. African-Americans united to respond to the beleaguered condition of people…not against anyone.
Speaker after speaker – Maya Angelou, Charles Rangel, Kwaisi Mfume, Jesse Jackson, Rosa Parks, Jawanza Kunjufu, John Conyers, Stevie Wonder, Tynnetta Muhammad, Kurt Schmoke, Marion Berry, Benjamin Chavis, and Louis Farrakhan – in their own way, challenged and urged those in attendance, those watching at home (or at work) and those who would later hear about it, to work together to heal our society.
Minister Farrakhan specifically outlined several steps that participants should take, including:
- Register to vote and actively work to make sure others do;
- Affiliate with an organization(s) focused on improving the Black Community;
- Join a church, synagogue, mosque, etc., and put your religion to work in the community;
- Adopt one of the 25,000 black children waiting for adoption;
- Develop a relationship with a prisoner and help that person in their transition to life after prison;
- Establish a black United Fund to help our communities.
These steps alone will not alleviate all the problems we face. But if these measures are adopted, we will have taken one giant step forward.
Those of us assembled on the Mall on Monday, October 16, 1995 were prayerful, powerful, respectful, and reverent. More importantly, we were inspired by having been there, and we left committed to begin, continue, or accelerate our personal efforts to implement solutions to the trenchant social problems we face in our communities. I’m ready to do my part.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Arguably, a dozen years before I conceived and introduced The Sphinx of Charlotte/Break It Down, this essay was my very first blog. Who knew? Now, you do. I hope you enjoyed this narrative version of Throw Back Thursday (remember, tomorrow is the anniversary), brought to you on Wednesday. So there you have it, “A Look Back at the MMM: My Generation’s March on Washington!”
I’m done; holla back!
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