In the fall of 1995, The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan along with Local chapters of the NAACP, The Nation of Islam, and The National African American Leadership Summit, called for the first organizing of the Million Man March, gathering masses of African American Men from all over the country in Washington DC, unified in their demand for Black Liberation in America, and determined to convey to the world, a vastly different picture of the Black male than it had become accustomed to. And to unite in self help and self defense against economic and social injustices plaguing the African American community. Hundreds of thousands of men from across the country flooded the streets of the Nation’s capitol as one of the largest organized and unified assemblies in American history of Black men from all ages, backgrounds, and demographics took place on and around the National Mall. The impact of the first march was felt across the world
“The day of atonement,” is widely considered to be the second name of the first Million Man March, as the speakers of the event set their speeches up around three central themes: atonement, reconciliation, and responsibility. For many of the people in attendance, that “day of atonement” name represented much of the motivation behind the movement. Many attendees spoke of taking themes back of: having a oneness with ourselves as individuals, the most high, and our people from speeches given by the likes of Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King III, Rosa Parks, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and Rev. Jessie Jackson.
The atonement was not referring to that of the power structure towards us as a people, but towards ourselves and our dealings and relationships with one another. The reconciliation we sought was not with this country, but more for a reconcilement and a state of harmony within the black community between one another and with our God. The responsibility was not on America to fix our circumstances for us but rather a call for us to take up the responsibilities of building for ourselves enough to be able to fix our own circumstances.
The media often portrays us as a divided or fractioned people. Even while united by race, circumstance, vulnerability and lack of opportunity, we still divide ourselves according to class, religion, economic status etc. The Million-man march was a slap in the face to every one of those stereotypes set forth by the predominately white media structure of the time. Hundreds of thousands of Black men, women, and children from different religions, backgrounds, social statuses, classes, political orders and professional affiliations united under the same cause, to expand our commitment to a responsibility in our own personal conduct, and in our obligations to our communities.
The only thing that continues to baffle me even till this very night of which I sit and type the words to this essay nearly 20 years after the first Million man march and a mere 6 days before the second, How the hell did we get here again so quickly?
Much like the theme of the first million man march centered around atonement, reconciliation and responsibility by the black community to the black community; the theme of this year’s Million Man March is: Justice or Else. The Honorable minister has been on an underground media and public speaking expedition, blanketing the nation’s unconventional media outlets, churches & Mosques…. Seems like any platform he can find, he has been using it to implore as many men as he can to once again answer the call to action. There is no cowardice in his representation of our plight and struggle as a people. And unlike the previous themes like that of accountability and atonement, this call is a Demand for Justice or Else! This year’s message has two chambers fully loaded, and while one is still pointed at ourselves as a people in an attempt of elevating our consciousness and accountability, the other one is pointed directly at the tyranny of government and the institutional racism & colonialism of this capitalist power structure against the Black and Brown citizens of this country.
Justice for whom, you may continue to ask? We want Justice for Trayvon Martin, Justice for Eric Garner, Justice for Tamir Rice, Justice for Sandra Bland, Justice for Freddie Gray, Justice for the more than 700 American men, women, and children of color that have been unjustly, unfairly, and inconsequentially whipped off of the face of the earth this year by those who claim some sense of moral autonomy in their implicit bias against anyone dark enough to pose a threat. We want justice for the 28 black and unarmed victims of law enforcement’s thirst for blood this year. The call for justice also reaches to the heights of the billionaire corporations that we as a people continue to make rich with our dollars that have no interest, common cause, or responsibility to the communities of black and brown people across the world of which they are dependent on to remain profitable. What most people still want to know though is the significance of the “Or Else” portion of this year’s title. That’s all anyone seems to focus on. What does it mean? Who is he talking to? Is he trying to start a race war? Is this a threat of violence?
Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to one of Minister Farrakhan’s speeches in Miami, Florida. In front of a packed house, he spoke in Great detail about the meaning of the “Or Else” in his call to order. He began by referencing the last speech made by The rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, which would go on to be the thesis statement of the minister’s message that he would reference constantly over the course of his speech to over-emphasize its importance. In his last speech, Dr. king spoke with a much different tone and position than people had become accustomed to hearing him speak over the years. He spoke of the redistribution of pain through the use of our finances. According to the minister, it was King’s nightmare, not his dream that ultimately was responsible for his assassination. He began to talk about mass economic withdrawal among the Black community of our spending, saying that we needed to invest our money into land.
This year's Million Man March will be followed by the “holiday season”: Black Friday, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Historically known as the days when Black People across the nation show up in overwhelming numbers to spend money that we don’t have on things that we can’t afford. We spend more money during this time than any other point in the fiscal year. It’s time for the Corporations that suck all the economic resources out of the Black community and give nothing in return to feel the pain of our struggle. In this capitalist system, the only thing people respect is money, so let’s take that from them and redistribute it among the businesses in our own community and infrastructure. Dr. King said, “Black people in this country wield 1.3 trillion dollars of spending power, more than any other country on the earth.” Imagine what we could accomplish if we could redistribute that money and power amongst our own communities to build up our own economic opportunities instead of continuing to feed it to the machine of capitalism that persecuted us.
The fact is we don’t know justice; we never have. We couldn’t tell you what it looks like or what it feels like if our lives depended on it because we’ve never possessed it. We’ve heard stories of its glory and beauty, told second hand, by those fortunate enough to know it for themselves. But we couldn’t pick Justice out of a lineup if we tried because we’ve never seen it for ourselves. America never made that introduction for us. Justice is like that kid that moved out of the neighborhood before you moved in, but not before becoming a hood legend and leaving a thousand stories about his greatness and accomplishments to be told to you by your peers a thousand times in awe and envy without you ever meeting him face to face. As a People, we have been playing this game of hide and seek with justice ever since the passing of the civil rights act of 1964, but she has had the cheat code figured out to stay just far enough out of our grasp for us to start to deny her actual existence. How do you spend generations chasing and fighting for an ideal that you have received no confirmation even exists for you in the first place?
Justice or Else is not just a “Black Issue,” I would argue that none of the circumstances that had a part in us once again reaching this point of atonement are at all exclusively “Black issues.” Blacks are just a part of what has become the growing underclass of Capitalism in America. We have reached a point where a disappearing middle class and growing complex of income inequality in this country have made second-class citizens out of anyone not wealthy enough to afford Liberty and Justice for all. Justice or Else is a call for our Latino Community. Justice or Else is a call for our Native American Community. Justice or Else Is a call for our Mexican Community, Justice or Else is a call for our Feminist Community, Justice or Else is even a call for the poor White Communities that find themselves subjected to the many injustices we have been all too familiar with for years in our colonized and impoverished neighborhoods. Justice is for any of those that still find themselves continuously on the wrong side of Liberty.
Over the past few months, I have met many Men that were in attendance for the first Million Man March, who also plan on traveling from far and wide to be there again this year for the anniversary. Many of them came for different reasons. Some came to be a part of history; some came to let their voices be heard. Some travelled with their sons and daughters and wives and children just to observe such a powerful sight together as a family. Some were children at the time, who came with their fathers or grandfathers to learn about what it really means to be a strong black man and to stand for something. Some were college students who were sent to attend as part of a school project. But the stories that interested me were the ones of the people who did not attend, the ones that felt left out, or like they missed out on a piece of history. Some decided not to attend because of their feelings towards Minister Farrakhan, or their disagreements with some of his more contraversial messages. Some decided to sit it out because of religious divisions between Christianity and the Nation of Islam, even though the whole purpose of the march was to bring us all together in unity. In spite of all of this, I have found that Many of them were determined to not make the same mistake this year, and have already made arrangements to attend, realizing that at times where we as Blacks across the country are facing the same oppression, there is no time and no place for division between the oppressed people. What we need is unity.
This is an Election year coming up, and that year will find us all at war on two fronts: Where we live, and State & US Government. We cannot allow the voices and the issues of the forgotten and the unheard to continue to go unnoticed and unacknowledged by those campaigning for our votes. We must all unite and raise our voices in unison against this oppressive system of governing that continues to profit from the immorality of a growing gap of income inequality, mass incarceration of Black and Latino Men for mostly nonviolent drug offenses, and a military industrial complex that acts as the world police when we are ourselves corrupt, and unjust. “Justice or Else,” a 20th anniversary observance of the Million Man March, is open to people of all races, religious backgrounds, cultural differences, ethnic backgrounds, and sexual preferences is scheduled for Saturday, October 10th, 2015 from 5am-7pm ad the DC National Mall. Where will you be when we once again make history?