By JONATHAN TILOVE
October 15, 2005
c.2005 Newhouse News Service
WASHINGTON _ Black Americans thronged the National Mall on Saturday in an assemblage of mutual affirmation, demanding more of their nation and of themselves.
“It’s nothing but black folks in love with each other from one end to the other,” said Jamil Muhammad, national spokesman for the Nation of Islam, gazing out from the podium on a perfect Indian summer day following a week of rainy weather.
The Mall was not as thick with people or moment as the Million Man March, whose 10th anniversary this gathering commemorated. That march, the largest public coming together of African-Americans in the nation’s history, stunned America with its sheer size and its air of bliss. It was history and, for many who attended, a moment of personal transformation.
But the crowd Saturday was ample enough to stretch, if loosely, the length and breadth of the Mall, giving the gathering the grandeur and scope of a successful occasion. Organized mostly below the radar of the national media, and with far smaller expectations, Saturday’s event achieved the formidable goal of not being a letdown to those who made the trek.
Proceeding with little of the advance controversy of 10 years ago _ mostly over the leadership of Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan, the main convener this time as last _ the Millions More Movement also succeeded in presenting a more complete portrait of black America, and its leadership, in a united front.
“We have seen an unprecedented gathering of the leaders of black America coming together to speak with one voice,” declared Farrakhan. “The whole spectrum of black thought was represented on this stage, in front of the Capitol of the United States of America. This tells us that a new day is dawning in America.”
“If there is a million, or less, or more,” he said, “the meaning of this day will be determined by what we do tomorrow to create a movement, a real movement among our people.”
Farrakhan’s words echoed those of George Fraser, co-founder of the event’s leadership advisory council in Cleveland, and the author of “Success Runs in Our Race: The Complete Guide to Effective Networking in the Black Community.”
Fraser, who spoke early in the day, said that while Saturday did not have the same sense of history of 10 years ago, it was still “a perfect day.”
“About every black leader in America is in the staging area,” he said. “It gives me a sense of hope. We have reached a tipping point of people of like mind, people who have the same vision as you have.”
The agenda was broad, ranging from reparations for slavery to the creation of a national black board of education, black control of the businesses that serve the black community and the creation of an independent black political movement.
“Any nation of 40 million should have their own political movement,” said political scientist Ronald Walters, who advised Jesse Jackson in his presidential campaigns and told the assemblage they must provide what Jackson calls “street heat,” on behalf of their political agenda.
Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, called for just that kind agitation on behalf of a program, soon to be presented by the caucus, calling not only for the rescue of those hundreds of thousands, many of them black and poor, displaced by Hurricane Katrina, but also to eradicate poverty in America in the next decade.
But mostly, for those who came, it was an occasion of shared identity and purpose.
“It’s a really wonderful, positive force to see the beauty of black people of all hues from all different parts of the country and across the planet to come together in one spot and say, `We’re one,” said Kofi Jones, an artist and activist from Cincinnati and one of the organizers of the National Hip Hop Political Convention, which met in Newark, N.J., last year and will meet in Chicago next.
As Munir Bahar marched across the Mall with a platoon of young men from the Brother-to-Brother mentorship program he founded as a student at Morgan State University, Norman Winchester, a supervisor in an auto parts plant in Detroit, recorded the scene on his video camera.
When Bahar barked, “Present arms,” the young men, all sharp in dark pants, white shirts and red ties, raised their right hands skyward in the Black Power salute.
“Young bloods,” said Winchester, narrating his video. “Here is the future. That’s what we have to look forward to.”
Winchester turned to survey the scene around him _ it looked like a vast family picnic on the grassy Mall. “It’s so peaceful here you could lay down and go to sleep,” he said.
“It’s rejuvenating,” said Lawrence Hamm, chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress in Newark, who led a large contingent to Washington. “Everybody has a yearning for a greater whole, especially a greater whole for justice.” But, said Hamm, “The real work begins Oct. 17.”
Unlike 10 years ago, this gathering was not focused solely on men, and there were efforts, especially from the podium, to reach out to other communities of color _ to Latinos and Native Americans especially. But the crowd was still almost entirely African-American, and more male than female. There were the occasional white people _ several young men selling a Socialist newspaper, others soliciting on behalf of Lyndon LaRouche, an older woman in a helmet cruising the scene on her Segway scooter, a middle-aged woman jogging, the occasional reporter.
But mostly it was black Americans, reveling in one other.
“It’s a celebration,” said Deborah Gilchrest, a mental health rehabilitation technician who came from High Point, N.C., with her husband, Kevin, who runs a barber shop and beauty salon there.
“We need to unite as a people, or perish as individuals,” Kevin Gilchrest said.