Written by William J. Ford, Special to the NNPA from the Washington Informer
WASHINGTON – On Saturday, October 10, thousands descended on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, organized by the Nation of Islam and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, demanding justice for Black victims of police brutality.
Speakers at the “Justice or Else” rally addressed the high-profile killings of Black men and women at the hands of police, economic empowerment and the need for unity and strong families in the Black community.
On Oct. 16, 1995, twenty years ago, the Million Man March was a call for one million Black men to seek atonement, reconciliation and responsibility for their families. This time around, Black women and children marched and chanted next to their husbands, fathers and brothers.
Herdosia Bentum of St. Louis, Mo., who was on the National Mall at 5 a.m. to help set up a table before a morning prayer, said that Black women must step up to help Black men.
“We see that our men are being killed rapidly, especially going through this jail pipeline. As women, we stand with the men on the front line in this struggle for equality,” Bentum, 35, said. “Until we really see true freedom, African women might have to lead this movement to have the power to govern ourselves.”
After the morning prayer, the sun began to hover above the Capitol and more people filled the Mall sitting on folding chairs, blankets and holding signs with slogans like: “End Police Terror! Racism is the Disease, Revolution is the Cure!” and “Black Power Matters.”
Just like the 1995 rally, there was plenty of commerce too, as dozens of vendors sold T-shirts, buttons, paintings, drawstring bags, food and other paraphernalia.
Near the Capitol Reflecting Pool, Eric Graham held a red, black and green Pan-African flag that he brought from his home of Yonkers, N.Y.
“I came to support my people who I love so much,” said Graham, 45, who also attended the march 20 years ago. “We got police brutality and killings of young black men. We got to get things changed.”
Michael Anderson of nearby Fort Washington, Md., stood next to a pole also near the Reflecting Pool soaking up the early morning atmosphere.
“I was here 20 years ago. The one thing I see different is more women are here,” he said. “That’s a good thing to support a cause that should be peaceful on a good day.”
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, who attended a previous engagement Saturday, released a statement about the march:
“The 1995 Million Man March was a significant event in American history and a transformative moment for an entire generation of African-American men,” he said. “This year’s march on the 20th anniversary is important for the next generation of Black leaders, as well as for the entire nation to take notice of their engagement to their families and community.”
Rally participants watched a myriad of speakers passionately talk about the deaths of young Black men killed by police in recent years on at least four Jumbotron screens that lined the grassy area of the National Mall.
Some of the family members of shooting victims spoke on stage Saturday.
“This is about human rights. We will not continue to stand by and not say anything anymore. We will speak up and speak out,” said Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Black teenager who was profiled, followed and shot to death by then neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla. “I say to the families that are standing here before me: don’t hold your head down as if your child’s life has been lost in vain. Hold your head up high. Your child was not the person that shot and killed someone else. Your child was murdered.”
A message several speakers made clear before Farrakhan made the final speech was for the thousands in attendance to return home and make their communities better.
Azia Evans, 22, who attends York College in York, Pa., plans on spreading the word about the march on her predominantly White campus to incorporate more diversity in the school’s programs and activities.
Linzy Burton has a similar plan when he leaves D.C. and heads back home to Seattle, Wash.
“I’m going to look into joining a local [organization] to help do something because the killing of our youth this summer in Seattle was ridiculous,” said Burton, who works for an organization called Youth Care that assists homeless youth.
While District Councilman Vincent Orange (At-large) and Mayor Muriel Bowser emphatically encouraged support for D.C. statehood, Joshua Storks-Sayles talked about making a difference within the judicial system.
After Storks-Sayles graduates from Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, he plans to enroll in the police academy.
“I get a lot of criticism for that because no change will happen overnight, but it’s about making change,” said Storks-Sayles, 23, who’s from Detroit, Mich. “If you look at it from a bigger perspective, inserting yourself in the system can make things better. You can be chief of police and make things better. It may take five or 10 years, but I’m 23. I have time.”