Naomi Harris says that words must now be replaced by actions.
While attending the Million Man March with a group of fellow students from the University of Maryland, it felt as if every two feet I’d see someone wearing a shirt with the words “Black Lives Matter” or “I Can’t Breathe” the further I walked into the crowd.
I was excited to see what the event would become given the issues of police brutality, quality of education, access to healthcare and general economic or social disadvantages plaguing the Black community.
Yet my excitement dimmed once I began to make comparisons between the speeches held throughout the event, especially once religious leader, Louis Farrakhan, began to speak.
The march that happened 20 years ago had similar themes of expression and I’ve grown tired of the same approach to civil rights issues.
Twenty years ago thousands of men, women and children marched to Washington under the theme of “Atonement, Reconciliation and Responsibility” and listened to speakers like Rev. Jesse Jackson, Maya Angelou and Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.).
This year thousands of men, women and children marched to Washington under the new theme and listened to speakers like D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Rev. Jamal Bryant and more.
Maybe it is a generational difference but we are still in a church mindset, with a podium, a waving finger and gospel music. Yet where is the true change? We’ve made progress and even have a Black first family but minorities are still gunned down on the streets by police.
Unemployment rates for Black men were at 8.1 percent in Oct. 1995 and now it is 8.9 percent as of September of this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Black men are not the only ones who face oppressive problems but Black women as well. As of this year 19 transgender women have been killed and 17 of them were women of color, according to the Huffington Post.
Even the title of the march, with its emphasis on men, is problematic, as it was 20 years ago.
During his speech, Farrakhan compared ‘selling out’ to companies who want to stop Black activism to a woman who sells her body for money. If this is a march targeted for men then why did he not make the sex worker a man in his example?
The other speeches throughout the march were diverse. Activists who were not just Black but Hispanic, Native American and Middle Eastern were given the opportunity to speak.
It was uplifting.
And yet most of their speeches were given five-minute slots.
Then when Minister Farrakhan spoke, he went on for two hours. I left by the 30-minute mark. I’m tired of being preached down to.
The Million Man March gathered thousands of people from all over the country. Instead of speeches talking about issues we all already know and face on a daily basis, let us focus on action.
There could’ve been workshops or discussions with people creating connections and plans to bring back to their communities.
Opportunities to move forward with more concrete solutions can only come from conversation. A speech is a one-way conversation and I think it’s time to open both sides of discussion.
The Million Man March presented a scene. Thousands of black and brown bodies stood together in solidarity of the ills of being colored in a country that systematically places us below our white counterparts.
We do need justice.
We just need to find more approaches to this historically ingrained inequality so that 20 years from now we are celebrating not preaching.
Naomi Harris is an intern at The AFRO.