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Theology Thursdays: The Return of the “Million Man March:” Why Is It Even An Issue? by Anthony Asadullah Samad

In October, Minister Louis Farrakhan called for the return of the “one million,” those black men, whose spiritual pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. ten years ago, changed the mindset and self-imagery of the Black man in a way that couldn’t have been foreseen nor its impact anticipated. The Million Man March, in 1995, was a modern day miracle, called at a time when black male emasculation was at its peak—negative imagery on all fronts, from the death and destruction that stemmed from gang violence, to the degeneration of black women, which caused the “Waiting to Exhale” movement of black male-female separation as black women went in search of one “good BMW” (black man working)—a stigmatization caused by the rise in black male unemployment that was just coincidental to a paralleled rise in black female employment, causing conflict between black men and women that was fostering more by social engineering than societal circumstance. All these factors were occurring just as society was preparing to throw the black man away, in a decade that saw black male incarceration almost double, from 600,000 in 1990 to over one million, by 2000. It was almost asinine to expect that you could gather 100 black men in one spot and not expect violence, murder and mayhem to break out, much less one million. And the truth of the matter was that nobody expected one million to really show up. Talk about thinking big? Many thought this was engagement of megalomania, and called Farrakhan a megalomaniac for making such, what many thought was, a foolish (not bold) proclamation. Until one million showed up. In fact, it’s commonly acknowledged, in hindsight, that more than one million showed up. In truth, closer to two million showed up. The most successful march of any kind in American history, though mainstream historical revisionist would just as soon not acknowledge such, and, in fact, would choose to forget that…if we let them. Lest we forget…

Even though the Million Man March, also known as the “Day of Atonement,” was billed as an engagement in renewed personal responsibility towards our women, families, and our communities that produced thousands of black adoptions, thousands of renewed spirits that changed their lives for the better and can bare witness to the manifestations of that change (I, being one of them), and hundreds of communities that still cooperate in the spirit of the Million Man March, you still have some that see the Million Man March as a wasted opportunity for us to do something greater. Others are still bent on inferring that the cash collected on the mall that day went to some other purpose, even though the march cost close to a million to put on, and the Nation of Islam fronted almost a half million dollars to pay cost that needed to be paid to the District of Columbia before the march would be approved. The audit report verified that. One writer, one of my editorial colleagues, even went as fare to call the march “a farce.” While I respect him for stating his opinion, and he even came out to defend it last week during Minister Farrakhan’s appearance at the Urban Issues Forum, I think his opinion is misguided, and, if you take his own admission that the march changed his life and caused him to “kick his own game up,” hypocritical. To call something a farce is to suggest that it wasn’t real—“a ridiculous or empty display,” as Webster defines it. There was nothing farcical about the Million Man March. It was definitely real, something that had never been done before (or since). There was nothing ridiculous about its mission of atonement and personal responsibility. Those who attended it still say, even ten years later, that it was one of the high points of their life, and a feeling that they had never felt before (or since). There was nothing empty about what was accomplished, if a person adhered to the mission and changed their personal lives, which then causes you to touch others differently.

The Million Man March, for all things it was, didn’t fulfill some people’s unreasonable expectations of what should’ve (in their opinion) followed. The Million Man March was the “ultimate high,” and represented the signal of what Stevie Wonder said over thirty years ago, that black men had to come on trying until they reached “the highest ground.” Well, the Million Man March was the higher ground, as folk who had never worked together before, folk who had fallen out and came back together, and folk that was “just lookin’ for something to hold on to,” found it on that pilgrimage to Washington, October 16, 1995. Many folk wanted to stay on high. Like most highs, they don’t last as long as the person would like, and they go searching for the next high, or how to get back on high because of the feeling it gave them. If you came down off the Million Man March “high,” and haven’t been able to find it again, don’t blame the march because you can’t find your higher ground. Or maybe you didn’t do enough in the aftermath, waiting for somebody else to do something. There was no promise of that, and rarely do we get everything right first time out the box. We only pledged to change out lives, and if our lives (individually and collectively) haven’t changed, we only have to look to ourselves on that reality. The 10th Anniversary of the Million Man March is an opportunity to build on what we started, and as Minister Farrakhan stated put the follow-up and systems in place that will allow this generation to keep future generations from becoming slaves again. Our own division, labels, and intra-race separation between the individual successes of a few Blacks—while the masses are destitute, makes it a notion not so far fetched.

The march did what it was supposed to do to get “black men” on high. It was the responsibility of black men to keep themselves on high. The Million Man March wasn’t meant to save the world. It was meant to save black men and their relationship with their women, their communities and with each other. Upon doing that, saving the world was not (and is still not) beyond the realm of possibility. Once we understand that all spiritual men, in all the holy books, make pilgrimages to come in touch with themselves and their missions. People who say they’re tired of marchin’, are marching for the wrong reason. There is a difference between a march and a pilgrimage. The Million Man March was a pilgrimage for many, or close to one as most had seen.

It shouldn’t even be a question as to whether we should revisit the Million Man March on its tenth anniversary. The question is whether we should revisit our intentions, and/or expectations.

Anthony Asadullah Samad is a national columnist, author and managing director of the Urban Issues Forum. His upcoming book, 50 Years After Brown: The State of Black Equality In America is due out in 2004. He can be reached at

Anthony Asadullah Samad

Thursday, December 23, 2004

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