Twenty years ago, during the first Million Man March, I still remember the excitement of running down the stairs to view what would go down in history as one of the largest gatherings of Black men, and also one of the most moving, peaceful demonstrations of unity.
I was only seven at the time, and my mother kept my sister and I home from school to view the live coverage and show solidarity with those in attendance, which included my father, uncles, and many others. The sensation I felt looking at a pool of a million brothers standing in the capitol, committing themselves to be better men was indescribable. Even as a young girl, I recognized that it was a special moment.
Now, as an adult, I had the opportunity to attend the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March. Themed #JusticeOrElse, this demonstration seemingly had a scope far greater than the original march. From the moment I hit the mall, I was taken aback by the diversity of the crowd and speakers. I attended with family and friends of various backgrounds and religions.
We saw representatives from Native American communities, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, Christian Ministers– people of almost every ethnicity took to the stage or moved throughout the crowd, showing their support for unity, which stretched beyond our differences in the fight for justice.
Contrary to what one may assume, the day was also spearheaded by many women, including Tamika D. Mallory of the NY Justice League, who served as the National Coordinator. And Hip hop artist and activist Yonasda Lonewolf played a big role in bringing together the Indigenous communities.
Going into to the day, I wasn’t sure what my take away would be. Some wondered whether the anniversary would be just another event, where folks show up, feel good, and go back to life as usual, which is a fair question.
Yet I left genuinely feeling like it was a spark to something that would have lasting effects. In Minister Farrakhan’s words, it was “not a day, but a movement.” And although we’ve all heard this before, the amount of organizing and planning I’ve witnessed over the years, in preparation for the follow up steps, has given me the impression that it truly is.
What struck me the most was the call to “redistribute the pain” as Martin Luther King mentioned in some of his final speeches, the attempt to strategically organize economic boycotts and keep our money in our communities as much as possible.
We witnessed the effects of this last year’s plan when the #NotOneDime boycott caused Black Friday sells to drop by 11 percent. Also, the request for professionals to build alliances that would establish more institutions that serve our needs is something that I’m sure many would agree needs to happen – and this is a huge part of the “or else” ultimatum that has drawn considerable controversy for some. “Justice or Else” quite simply means to bond together to fight back against the injustices of police brutality, socio-economic discrimination, systematic racism, classism, and so forth, in ways that produce results.
The follow up Strategy Meeting, which was held a day after the march, was hosted by the 100 Black Men organization. Minister Farrakhan called for professionals who are skilled in organizing, to hand out copies of a National Agenda, Public Policy Issues Analyst, and Programmatic Plan of Action–all of which added more assurance that this moment was not all about talk.
Though I’m still reflecting on everything that was said and seen, I left with a passion to push harder in using my skills and talents for positive change, as all of this means nothing if we, as individuals, do not stay committed to the goals set forth.
With the ongoing outrage, protests, and different levels of mobilizing that has already taken place, from young people who are fed up with the injustice system, I get the sense that the new generation who were in attendance will take the inspiration of that day and put it into further action.
Whether you attended or not, agreed with everything said or not, Saturday was a great symbol of our unity, and undoubtedly, the substance is in what we do going forward. We are all pieces to the puzzle, and I look forward to putting it all together towards a brighter future.