Like a fumble in football, a mulligan in golf and, depending on the depth or persuasion of your religious convictions, a wayward soul finding salvation, the Million Man March is also looking for a second chance.
“We stand in violation of the pledge that we made in D.C. that day,” Minister Rodney Muhammad, head of Muhammad’s Mosque No. 12, said. “That pledge represents a code of conduct and because it was violated on every point, our communities continue to suffer. Our failure to stand by our pledge has allowed disunity to creep into our communities, making them worse off than they were in 1995.”
Muhammad made this statement Tuesday as a member of The Greater Philadelphia Local Organizing Committee for the 16th Anniversary of the Million Man March at a press conference at 1199C AFSCME District Council headquarters on 13th and Locust streets.
The commemorative event will take place the weekend of Friday, Oct. 7, and will conclude on Sunday at the Philadelphia Convention Center with an address by Minister Louis Farrakhan, the head of the Nation of Islam.
Farrakhan organized the Million Man March on the National Mall in Washington on Oct. 16, 1995. On that day, it is estimated that upwards of 1 million Black men showed up in Washington for what was to be a day of atonement. According to the Philadelphia organizing committee, more than 200,000 men from the Greater Philadelphia region attended the march.
Under a brilliant autumn sun, the march closed with the gathered men taking a pledge to “take responsibility for their lives and families, and commit to stopping the scourges of drugs, violence and unemployment.”
Many have wondered in the time since the march what has happened to the momentum that was instilled in the men who attended. Muhammad and the members of the local organizing committee have also asked that question.
“Back in 1995, Minister Louis Farrakhan was the general, and he gave marching instructions to us as soldiers,” said attorney Michael Coard, executive vice-chairman and general council of the Millions More Movement. “Unfortunately, there was a misunderstanding, I guess, down the chain of command. What the general ordered didn’t necessarily happen. It’s no fault of the general; it’s the fault of soldiers like me and others.”
While atonement for past transgressions will be part of the weekend, the main focuses of the weekend will be hunger, youth violence and political accountability. Attendees at the closing address will be asked to bring at least one non-perishable food item. There will be numerous events that weekend preceding Farrakhan’s address, including a youth leadership meeting on Saturday for emerging leaders in the community, some of whom may be too young to remember the Million Man March.
Of cities with more than 1 million in population, Philadelphia has the highest percentage of people living in poverty. Philadelphia’s First Congressional District, which includes Kensington, parts of North and South Philadelphia and Chester, has the second-highest percentage of impoverished families in the United States.
“The poor, and especially people of color, are under attack by forces that have been demonstrating their anger about the election of an African-American president in the U.S.,” said Joe Certaine, former managing director of the city and a member of the committee. “They have seized the momentum by pandering to those who relish our economic, social, cultural and political demise. Without an aggressive grass-roots mobilization we cannot even hope to fight back.”
Successful music mogul and entrepreneur Kenny Gamble, chairman of the Millions More Movement, emphasized that he wants people of all colors to be involved in the events of the weekend. On Tuesday, Gamble pointed out that the problems plaguing the Black community have deep roots that are intertwined in Black culture that go as far back as slavery.
He does not consider the Million Man March a failure, but he recognizes that 16 years after the march there is still plenty of work to be done.
“It’s going to take an awakening in our culture to make sure that the men in the community don’t do the same thing that their fathers did to them,” said Gamble, alluding to the high number of female-run households in the Black community. “You have to be responsible for your children. The destiny of our community is in building families. That is the most important unit to building a great society. So men and women have to work together.”
Gamble said that the commemorative weekend will focus more on the emancipation of the mind and not the problems born out of racism.
“You have no control over that,” Gamble said. “I’d rather deal with the things that I can control than the things I can’t. You do the right things for your community and your family and you will have control of them. I don’t care if you are Eskimo, Chinese, Russian or whatever — you can’t control that. But you can control your mind and your thinking. We haven’t done a very good job of that.”
The shooting death of Trayvon Martin has been called everything from a national tragedy to a national disgrace; a hate crime with more and more rallies taking place everyday calling for George Zimmerman’s arrest and justice for the victim and his grieving family.
President Barack Obama has also weighed in on the issue, leaving behind the sound bite, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.”
But absent from most of the discussions, most of the rallies, most of the righteous anger and all of the remarks from an increasing plethora of Black leaders and media figures is the other national disgrace — the abominably high murder rate among young Black males.
“This is an epidemic that’s been going on too long,” said Mayor Michael Nutter in a recent interview. “And unfortunately, you will find African-American males at the bottom of good categories and at the top of negative categories.”
Last Thursday, Mayor Nutter spoke at a rally in Love Park regarding the Martin killing. Nutter said people are concerned over Trayvon Martin, but also need to be outraged over what’s happening on their own street corners.
“How is it possible that thousands of Black men, thousands of Black people, [are] killed every year, and no one says a word?” asked Nutter in a published report.
Community leader and anti-violence activist Bilal Qayyum, who is also working with other community leaders on the new media campaign Live and Let Live: Promoting Peace and Eradicating the Culture of Violence, also questioned the Black community’s lack of outrage over the meaningless killings that happen in its neighborhoods every single day.
“Everyone is angry about what happened to this kid Trayvon Martin in Florida, but I tell people that in Philadelphia in the last ten years we’ve had 3,760 people killed. And over 2,600 of them were Black males,” Qayyum said. “Where’s the anger about that? In Chicago, there were a bunch of shootings just a couple of weekends ago and again, mostly Black males killing other Black males. Where is the outrage over that?”
The Black genocide taking place in the African-American communities didn’t happen overnight, social experts say. And, many of the factors contributing to it weren’t spawned in the Black community. Systemic racism, government apathy, the poor quality of education in many predominantly Black public schools and the loss of living wage jobs, have all played a part in creating the ongoing bloodshed.
“This is something that affects every aspect of life in our city,” said Chad Dion Lassiter, MSW and president of Black Men at Penn. Lassiter said the level of anger isn’t the same because people are being reactive rather than proactive, which is harder.
“It’s easier to be visceral rather than do the hard work of violence prevention,” Lassiter said. “We’re silent over the Black genocide, yet Trayvon Martin’s assassination gives us an example of the level of outrage that could take place — but deafening silence when the same thing happens on the street corners of our neighborhoods. I think it’s because we’re hypocrites; we’re okay with the moral erosion happening right in front of our eyes. There’s too much talk and too much inactivity — too much silence from the Black churches and the Black community. There are too many Black Zimmermans in our communities right now. Curtis up the street can commit two murders, and no one is willing to say anything. Are we really going to be okay with that?”
To cite a recent example, on March 20 at around 3:30 p.m., an unidentified Black male pulled up in a gold colored car in the vicinity of Fifth and Pierce streets. The still unidentified male fired several shots at a 19-year-old Black male. The victim ran south on Fifth and then onto Pierce Street, according to police. The unidentified shooter pursued him, still firing, and striking two men, ages 51 and 52. The victims were hospitalized in stable condition. That same evening, just before 9 p.m., gunfire exploded again inside a playground near Fourth and Washington where at least 60 people were gathered. An unidentified gunman fired several shots into the crowd, striking a 12-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl. The boy suffered a graze wound to the ankle and the girl was struck in the thigh. Both were rushed to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania where they were treated and released.
At the publishing of this article, the number of homicides in Philadelphia this year has climbed to 92. According to figures from reports researched by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, across the nation, 85 percent of the Black victims of homicide are male, and 51 percent are between the ages of 17 and 19.
“Should we be outraged over the death of Trayvon Martin? Yes, but cases like this happen everyday,” said Minister Rodney Muhammad of the Nation of Islam. “Martin’s death symbolizes the injustices done to us on a daily basis. The hoodie he wore was part of the stereotypical profile, but Wall Street stuck up the whole nation wearing business suits. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan called it justifiable homicide — that Zimmerman felt justified because our Black genocide gives a license to people like him. There has to be resentment over the wide spread murder of ourselves and our injustices to each other. I think for too long we’ve relied on someone else for our own betterment. We’re overdue to stop asking America for what’s due to us. We’ve done a great work for America and now it’s time to do a great work for ourselves. We have geniuses in every field of human endeavor, and we need to marshal those strengths. When we do better, America does better. There was a time when our children would walk ten miles to learn to read and write. Now we have children who live across the street from a Free Library and have never been inside it.”
Inspired and led by the Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Minister Louis Farrakhan, more than a million Black men gathered in Washington, D.C. to declare their right to justice to atone for their failure as men and to accept responsibility as the family head.
On that day, Monday, October 16, 1995, there was a sea of Black men, many who stood for 10 hours or more sharing, learning, listening, fasting, hugging, crying, laughing and praying.
The day produced a spirit of brotherhood, love and unity like never before experienced among Black men in America.
All creeds and classes were present: Christians, Muslims, Hebrews, Agnostics, nationalists, pan-Africanists, civil rights organizations, fraternal organizations, rich, poor, celebrities and people from nearly every organization, profession and walk of life were present.
It was a day of atonement, reconciliation and responsibility. And, it was a day that Philadelphians pulled together.
“In 1995, according to what we've got, there was somewhere between 180,000 to 200,000 from the metropolitan area here at the Million Man March. Philadelphia was number one hands down in sending the largest contingent,” said Minister Rodney Muhammad, the Delaware Valley Regional Minister of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and Minister of Muhammad Mosque No.12 in Philadelphia. “In addition to that, Philadelphia had one of the strongest organizations. I remember back to when the Honorable Minister Farrakhan came to Philadelphia in 1995 before the march, and had a meeting with union leaders, Black elected officials, Black clergy and many of the civic and grass roots leaders, a number of whom made up our local organizing committee for the march, at that time to organize and mobilize people for the march.”
Congress shut down that day and President William Clinton was “out of town.”
Mainstream media in America and media outlets from around the world were watching. The world did not see thieves, criminals and savages as usually portrayed through mainstream music, movies and other forms of media. On that day, the world saw a vastly different picture of the Black man in America.
“To go right to the heart of it, because every camera in every nation opened up their channels so that they could watch that march,” Muhammad said. “They didn’t believe that the March would come off the way that it did. Forty-eight hours before we got to Washington, in 1995, 15,000 National guardsmen were sent in. They were really expecting something a lot more riotous and out of control. But, it was one of the most organized and peaceful gatherings in the history of Washington D.C., according to the marshals.”
The world witnessed Black men demonstrating the willingness to shoulder the responsibility of improving themselves and the community.
There was neither one fight nor one arrest that day. There was no smoking or drinking. The Washington Mall, where the March was held, was left as clean as it was found.
Two of the best descriptions of the Million Man March include the word “miracle” and the phrase “a glimpse of heaven.”
The negative images, particularly out of Hollywood and the movie cinema, that depict and export negative images of Black men through movies such as ‘Boyz in the Hood,’ ‘Menace II Society,’ all of the Black exploitation films, we didn’t realize it, but they are shown globally, so there is an image the world has of us.
So watching the Million Man March, within 24 hours Black men had given a death blow to the distorted image of Black men with the global community over this 400 year period that we have been in America. 1.7 million young people registered to vote after the march. According to the FBI, crime went significantly down the last quarter of ’95 and the first quarter of 1996.”
For months leading to the march, Farrakhan -its convener and visionary- galvanized and addressed the problem and reformation of the Black male in a series of “Men Only” meetings themed “Let Us Make Man.”
Farrakhan had diagnosed the problem of the Black man as rooted in the crises of identity — lacking knowledge of self, God and the adversary of God — and stressed the critical need for a new way of thinking as the beginning of a new way of living for the Black man.
“One of the attributes of Allah, The All-Wise God, Who is the Supreme Being, is knowledge. Knowledge is the result of learning and is a force or energy that makes its bearer accomplish or overcome obstacles, barriers and resistance. In fact, God means possessor or power and force,” Muhammad wrote in “Message to the Black Man.” “The education my people need is that knowledge, the attribute of God, which creates power to accomplish and make progress in the good things or the righteous things.”
The Greater Philadelphia Local Organizing Committee will host the 16th Anniversary of the 1995 Million Man March on Oct. 7 - 9 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
The October event will focus on hunger, street violence and political accountability and those attending the main event, or the “Holy Day of Atonement,” on Sunday, will be asked to bring at least one non-perishable food item for donation.
For more information including ticketing for Farrakhan’s keynote address at 2 p.m. on Sunday and the weekend’s schedule of events, visit www.http://noi.org/hdoa2011/ or call (215) 228-6044.