ENOTES: JUSTICE OR ELSE WHAT?
By Kai EL’ Zabar
Twenty years ago, in 1995, Black men set out to come together for the Million Man March in America’s state capital to show unity in all matters that concern Black men — Black people. It is perceived by popular belief that Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan called the march. Some have said, not true but rather other community leaders chose the Minister as the face needed to pull Black men of all walks of life and he did. The march marketed as the next step to change was held on and around the National Mall. Other organizations like The National African American Leadership Summit, a leading group of civil rights activists and the Nation of Islam working in conjunction with scores of civil rights organizations including many local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (not the national NAACP) formed the Million Man March Organizing Committee. The founder of the National African American Leadership Summit, Dr. Benjamin Chavis Jr. served as National Director of the Million Man March.
Though Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had lead a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, other than the fact that they both involved Black people and met in Washington D.C. little more can be compared. The 1963 march was organized by a group of civil rights, labor, and religious organizations, under the theme “jobs, and freedom.” Estimates of the number of participants varied from 200,000 to 300,000; it is widely accepted that approximately 250,000 people participated in the march. Observers estimated that 75–80% of the marchers were Black. The march is credited with helping to pass the Civil Rights Act (1964) and preceded the Selma Voting Rights Movement, which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act (1965).
Prominent speakers were invited to address the 1995 audience, and African American men from across the United States converged on Washington in an effort to “convey to the world a vastly different picture of the Black male” and to unite in self-help and self-defense against economic and social ills that plague the African American community.
The Million Man March took place within the context of a larger grassroots movement that set out to win politicians’ attention for urban and minority issues through widespread voter registration campaigns. The march was successful in bringing out approximately 400,000 plus according to mainstream media, however, organizers and attendees swear that there were more. Black men from all walks of life, rich, poor, educated uneducated, skilled and unskilled stood shoulder to shoulder, bowed heads and prayed together; and dared to look each other in the face with respect as men. Numerous attendees returned home to impart words describing their experience from an emotional perspective as life changing. And yet missing is the proof in the pudding.
Although the march won support and participation from a number of prominent African American leaders, its legacy is flawed by controversy over several issues. I dare to question, so what did it achieve other than a day of emotional union, a day of agreeing that Black people suffer unparalleled injustice, a day in church at the National Mall in DC? What has changed for the better in Black men’s lives and ultimately Black lives period? What were the intended outcomes for such a march? Were there any? We can’t say that the image of Black men changed.
We can’t say that there was any legislature that emerged from it; nor can we say that there was any major movement to create self-help organizations for Blacks or programs put in place to assist in transforming the social, political and economic conditions of Blacks in America. We know that there was a fictional movie made by Spike Lee to capture a glimpse at inside stories of men who had attended the Million Man March titled Get On the Bus, starring Ossie Davis, Harry Lennix, Andre Braugher, Charles S. Dutton, Bernie Mac, Hill Harper, Isaiah Washington, Roger Guenveur, Albert Hall, Wendell Pierce and more.
This year 2015 the March is touted as the 20th Anniversary, The Million Man March Justice or Else.’ The question is, so what is the else? What we gonnah do folks? After the continued abusive bashing and unjust murders of Black men by white police officers across the country, disproportionate educational training and job opportunities and a total disregard for our humanity,— what?
Will the march collect a dollar from each attendee and begin a legal fund to assist families of victims of police brutality? Will it set up a mental health assistance program to help them with loss and grief? Perhaps the march will collect money to kick-start training programs that could inspire the spirit of hope amongst the people who battle daily to establish that Black Lives Matter. I could go on but you get the picture. What is the intended measurable outcome . . . Justice or else what?