Hundreds of thousands of people, from various places in the world, gathered at the National Mall in D.C. for the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March on Oct. 10. (Photo by JD Howard)
Hundreds of thousands of people – varying in race, color, age, and residency – concerned with Black progression and bothered by the loss of innocent Black lives, gathered on the National Mall in D.C. for the 20th Anniversary of the Million Man March on Oct. 10. “I was here in 1995 for the Million Man March and felt I’d heeded the call, done the work, and should be able to reap the benefits,” Antwan Palmore, an Atlanta native, told the AFRO. “Twenty years later, I am here with my teenage son, and feel distressed that there was little delivery on justice from then to now.”
Palmore’s concerns echoed through the crowd of men, women, and children who had traveled from as far away as Harare, Zimbabwe. While optimistic about the ability of Black Americans to petition for their demands, many sought answers to police brutality and political disenfranchisement that continue to plague communities of color.
“It is a sobering realization that the crisis of color line just keeps going,” said John Harris, who traveled with a caravan of eight tour buses from Chicago for the rally. “All the way here, the discussion was about how Blackness becomes a threat, a cause for alarm, or a reason for heightened suspicions. We are all Americans, but for some reason many White people and particularly White law enforcement, view us as the enemy when we’ve done nothing but walk out of our doors.”
Harris said that his respect for Minister Louis Farrakhan, 82, the outspoken leader of the Nation of Islam has not waned; however, he is eager to move beyond the talk and rhetoric of “justice or else.”
“I think we really need to examine what it means as a nation that the police brutality my grandfather endured, my son now faces. The impunity and lack of response from White lawmakers is deafening. It suggests that Black people naturally deserve to be treated like animals,” he said.
“There are some things that need to happen in this country and I wanted to be a part of making that positive shift,” said Takia Byrd, who traveled with the Chicago caravan. “I am hoping and praying for the best – I just celebrated my 21st birthday in March and I’ve been feeling that there is something epic about being a part of redefining this nation and the changes that are coming.”
Since the first march on Oct. 16, 1995, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports have shown a steady rate of nearly 400 officer-involved killings per year, the majority of which have involved White officers and Black or Latino citizens. And, while many at the Justice or Else rally pushed for a national agenda to address the volatility with which police interact with citizens, others looked to reinvigorate their personal and community relationships.
During the 1995 rally, Farrakhan called on Black men to take charge of their neighborhoods through self-improvement measures (improved diet and exercise, reading, and mentoring), and actively engaging in the uplift of their families and communities. With the watchword “atonement,” firmly affixed, Farrakhan asked the men to take a moral assessment of their behaviors and begin a necessary healing process.
That process led Michelle Kellogg and her father, Ronald, back to each other, after his arrest and confinement in an Indiana prison. The Kellogg family made the trip from Indianapolis together for the rally as a testament to the spirit of the previous March.
“Twenty years ago I sat in a prison block listening to Farrakhan on the radio and it put me to shame,” said Ronald, whose substance abuse led to a deadly home invasion. “My crimes were not just against the people in that house, but also against my children who were forced to grow up without my guidance, my provision, and my protection. White people may never treat us right, but we have to learn how to father our children and treat each other right.”