Fear of Knowing
(Washington, DC) The call to come was too great for those of us who showed up 20 years, where else would you want to be –The Million Man March. We’re older now with more years of experience. We heeded Minister Louis Farrakhan’s call to go back to our neighborhoods, atone for past mistakes, and find purpose in our communities, churches, and neighborhoods. This was different, it wasn’t just a call to action but, rather a provocative statement; "Justice of Else."
Like the mood 20 years ago things are happening beyond the control of Black Men/Women. Some will suggest it began with the killing of Trayvon Martin and the release of the vigilante accused of his murder. It intensified with Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri. Eric Garners cry for help “I Can’t Breathe” in New York at the hands of police. The death of Black people just seem to intensify with Freddy Gray’s death (and the subsequent Baltimore Uprising) and Sandra Bland's questionable death while in custody. We’re still awaiting the outcome of Tamir Rice case in Cleveland. I’m not conspiracy theorist, however the facts and the circumstances seem to bare out the need for the movement of “Black Lives Matter.”
“Little Brother make sure you make way for people who want to sit down,” said a man to a pair of young Brothers who rode the DC Metro on the way to the March. “The Minister, wants us to be respectful today.” The young men in their late teens seemed more preoccupied with their “gear” and tunes. The Cleveland man in dread-locks turned to his friend reminiscing about the March and its aftermath. “I had to leave DC, there weren’t jobs and the cost of living was cheaper in Cleveland. Hell, to live here now, you’d have to have a regular job and be a part of the criminal element. Here’s our stop.”
The mass of humanity heading from Union Station to the Mall seem to come in waves. There was no sign of potential problems the Capitol Police alluded to prior to the March. People came with purpose. Like the hundreds of Howard University students who took to the street to make known their discontent or the hundreds of members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity who wore dark suits along with ties and bow ties. I saw men and women bring their children. Purposeful, members of the Nation of Islam (NOI) dressed in their traditional gear (bow ties for men/long skirts for women and head covers).
I noted a number of non-traditional attendees who seemed at home with this group. A Latino couple who were there to witness the event, white reporters who flowed through the crowd hoping to capture what was happening, and supporters of every ethnicity took up space on the Mall.
While this wasn’t a march for Men only the large contingent of women who showed up expressed concern they have for their sons and men in their lives. The death of young Black men on American streets has become epidemic.
At 82, this likely be one of the last major addresses Minister Louis Farrakhan will make to gathering of this size (estimated crowd 850 – an under-count). As a disciple of Elijah Muhammad, he made good on his vision that Black people would follow a leader who would bring Islam to the west. The Minister is one of the few who has a link to Muhammad and Malcolm X. It gives him credibility,
“Hey, I didn’t hear a lot about the March this go round,” was often uttered in my presence as I told people I was heading to DC. Like much of the media landscape things have change from 20 years ago. There was not an abundance of cell phones; Black radio was on the cusp of coming into its own; BET had barely penetrated Urban America; the Internet as we know it today was in its infancy; and the term social network didn’t exist.
The “full court press” of then gave way to an underground network which produce the first march. It was Texted, Tweeted, Snapchatted, Periscoped, and Facebooked around the globe. If you read the “Final Call” or any Black news outlet you knew, if you were plugged into “Black Twitter” you knew, and if you listen to “Black Talk Radio” you knew. Certain “Chocolate Cities” were very much aware.
However, if you expected traditional networks i.e. ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, FOX etc…you didn’t even know it was happening. Who missed the boat, Hip-Hop Radio (more concerned about Drake, Rhianna, Little Wayne, and Nicki Minaj),
The array of speakers which lead up to keynote were by their presence was protest. I took note of my fraternity Brother DC Councilmen Vincent Orange. He spoke of District residents continued disfranchisement. “We have no vote in Congress…we don’t have the right to vote for President…sign our petition to give us that right,” implored Orange.
Native speakers reminded the crowd of the evils of the Europeans “who stole our land” plundered our wealth only to be corralled on reservations that one speaker described as “concentration camps.”
Sharing the stage with America’s indigenous people were Spanish speaking migrants who addressed the crowd in English and their native tongue. They implored the crowd to think of their share experiences and work together on common causes. One speaker noted that their combined strength would far out way what those who are trying to demonize there undocumented status and thwart them politically.
The arrival of the Minister on this stage is a testament to his staying power and his “beloved” stature. Age has a way of making you evolve. Time has also had an effect on the members of NOI. I’ve known various members, whom I call friends, and witness there transformation. They are global in their perspective, they are technologically savvy, and their enduring commitment of Black people and their plight is unwavering. They are introspective as the movement which began with racial solidarity has evolved to embrace science, philosophy, technology, and business acumen. They will not be “pigeon holed” by critics.
There were nine demands outlined by the March organizers. They included justice for Blacks, Native Americans, Mexican-Latinos, Women, Poor, the Incarcerated, and Veterans. There was a demand for an end to police brutality. There was also quid pro request for land to pay for the years of non-payment (think reparations). These requests aren’t new. Historically, NOI has asked for similar things in the past. It is the “or else” portion that implies a threat that even he (Farrakhan) can’t predict nor control.
Minister Farrakhan acknowledged the Black Lives Matter movement and their calls for change. He chastised traditional Black leaders for their unwillingness to give way to the next generation and their way of confrontation.
This is part of the Fear of Knowing. Knowing the unpredictability of the crowd. They may love you, they may come when you call, and they may listen to your pleas but controlling the outcome isn’t within your power. This is also an audience whose attention span is less than a half an hour (two hour speeches go over their head). I watched for more than an hour on the mall and what stood out for me were the number of people focused on taking selfies and not the message. A number of young people who were brought by older folks were repeatedly asked to stop what they were doing and listen.
Women were a big focus of his address and he pointed to those who would demean them by calling them the “B-word.” He got personal when he talked about abortion and the circumstances surrounding his own birth. “My mother tried to end my life twice in womb (via a coat hanger)…then she said I leave it in god’s hands,” according to the NOI Leader. He urge the woman to protect that sacred area by putting their hands over their “wombs.”
One of the sharpest criticism was leveled at HBCU’s and their training of the next generation. “We must train our young people not just for jobs,” he implored. I get this but, blasting institutions which trained and hired Black scholars when it wasn’t popular is not solution. It feeds into a conservative narrative that there isn’t a need for these institutions. When you have the mike, you get to make your argument. I don’t have to agree. It was strange at the end when he called for HBCU Presidents to meet with him the next day to discuss what to do with land he expected from a “reparations” movement.
I get what my friend Richard Muhammad posted on his Facebook page about the critics of Minister Farrakhan. He was invited to speak at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and then dis-invited. “The result was the Million Man March in the face of detractors and an unhealthy dose of Negro Egoism and Hater-Ade. Anyone tearful for not speaking or getting their moment in the sun on 10-10-15 should do a simple thing: Call your own march and do your own thing.”
Was it worth attending? Yes. Was the message pointed? Somewhat. The NOI has recognized it has to embrace those of Latino heritage and Native populations. Those who needed to hear this message weren’t there, the mass of Black folk who are struggling in communities across the country.Others included the young men who are slaughtering each other the streets. The fact traditional Civil Rights have a difficult time accepting him in their community is a travesty because they represent a missed opportunity. You don’t have agree but, listening is a starting point.