by BAR editor and columnist, Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
They journeyed to the Washington Mall by the hundreds of thousands, as had Black men 20 years before. They were led to believe that an ultimatum had been issued to Power: “Justice or Else.” But, “was the question of ‘Justice or Else’ ever raised or answered by the organizers?”
The Million Man March from the Perspective of Millennials: Which Way Forward?
by BAR editor and columnist, Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
“How do you translate the political good will that Farrakhan enjoys in the Black community into sustainable political power?”
Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan issued a call for a million Black people to descend upon Washington, DC on 10/10/15. Over one million Black folks answered his call. The theme of the demonstration was “Justice or Else.” Black people came from across the country using every form of transportation available, prepared to sleep on floors and on church pews to debate and ponder the notion of giving the US government a political ultimatum.
The question was whether a Black leader was finally going to articulate, perhaps the obvious, that a war was in full force against Black folks and that our denial has rendered our children easy prey and our community defenseless. The question was whether Farrakhan was going to offer a strategy to liberate Black people from the hell of living under American occupation. Did the “or else” comment refer to Black folks beginning to strategize about how to survive and combat the American nightmare?
What is not debatable is that Minister Farrakhan is the only Black leader in America that can issue a “call” for one million Black people to come to the Washington, DC and for over one million people to show up. The political question for the 2015 rally is the same question that was posed 20 years ago: how do you translate the political good will that Farrakhan enjoys in the Black community into sustainable political power? A Black political power that is capable of overturning an oppressive political system into a humane and people-first (as opposed to a capital-first) alternative.
Twenty years ago, October 16, 1995, an estimated one million African American men from across the United States gathered together at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to rally in one of the largest demonstrations in Washington history. The first MMM surpassed the estimated 250,000 who gathered in 1963 for the March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech. These demonstrators marched under the theme: A Day of Atonement. The men took a public pledge to support their families, refrain from violence and physical or verbal abuse toward women and children, and renounce violence against other men “except in self-defense.” The demonstrators were asked to “go back home” to implement the changes they had pledged. Questions were raised after the demonstration about a political program that could leverage the political strength of mobilizing one million Black people. What was the political significance of asking Black men to atone for their indiscretions? Was that the path of Black liberation?
“The question was whether Farrakhan was going to offer a strategy to liberate Black people from the hell of living under American occupation.”
The 2015 demonstration, to its credit, highlighted the need for African-American solidarity with indigenous peoples in the Caribbean and Latin America. An Ecumenical cross-section was highlighted to ensure that the religious community was represented. Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, represented mothers of police terror victims and Michael Brown, Sr. represented the fathers of slain young black men. There was general sentiment in the crowd that Africa-America had reached the consensus of “enough is enough.” In addition, Minister Farrakhan highlighted his protégés.
What haunted many of us as we left the demonstration was whether an incredible opportunity to reach millions of Black folks had been squandered. Was the question of “Justice or Else” ever raised or answered by the organizers? Was a program of action to address the serious and deadly plight of Africans in America offered for debate or seriously considered? What follow-up programs would be offered by the Nation of Islam? Minister Farrakhan briefly mentioned a two-pronged strategy: one to address the violence within the Black community and the other to address the terror facing the Black community from outside. He called for 10,000 Black men to volunteer to address the crisis.
I was interested, however, in how the youth or so-called Black “millennial” population had digested the event. Below you will find the thoughtful reflections of four Howard University graduates – one of whom had attended the first MMM in 1995.
Paul Winrey, 29
I went to the MMM because I’m a fan of the Honorable Louis Farrakhan. I was ten years old when my mother took me to the first MMM. My parents provided a household that promoted Black pride and the need to make a contribution to our community. I came to the March because I believed and still believe that Minister Farrakhan is someone who wields enough power and influence to sufficiently address the injustices facing African-Americans.
My generation has the distinction of living in a digital age where images and videos travel at lighting speed. Unlike past generations, technology has provided the ability to actually see police murder young Black men. I, like so many young Black men of my generation have been stopped by police on numerous occasions.
“It lacked clarity and focus.”
I was disappointed in Minister Farrakhan’s speech. It lacked clarity and focus. For example, the speech was too self-serving, especially in regards to Farrakhan’s mea copa about the death of Malcolm X. I couldn’t understand why Farrakhan spent so much time talking about his history with Malcolm when so many Black people in front of him, such as the Mothers of murdered Black boys and men are traumatized by police murders today. Perhaps, that’s a topic that could have been broached at another occasion.
I was interested in understanding what Minister Farrakhan meant by the theme of the rally: Justice or Else. I have a vague idea of what the Minister meant by the theme of the rally but he did not directly define what he meant by “Justice or Else.” However, the speech does not mean as much to me as follow-up activities. I am now waiting to see what the Nation will do next.
Tyler Brown, 29
At this fourth quarter of 2015, the African American community as a people have graphically witnessed cold reminder after reminder that our lives do not matter. We have seen image after image and video after video testifying that we are the preferred target for discriminatory bias that often spills over into fatal violence. In Ferguson, Long Island, Cleveland, New York, Jasper, Texas and California states and cities small and large, we have watched obvious collusion between local prosecutors and local police departments end in miscarriages of justice. We have marched, we have spoken, we have advocated, we have consulted politicians and met with presidential commissions.
“The mobilization of that many African Americans needs an actionable result.”
Within this context, the 2015 Justice or Else March was heralded with much excitement, as the NOI (Nation of Islam) is one of the largest black civil rights movements in the country. The actual event left much to be desired as the program was bereft of any substantial brainstorming, collaborating, or concrete action beyond Minister Farrakhan's call for Black America's best and brightest to convene with him on matters to be determined following the march. At an estimated 1 to 2 million attendees, the mobilization of that many African Americans needs an actionable result.
Minister Farrakhan's speech was classic Louis Farrakhan; indicting the system for past wrongs, inciting the crowd with calls for justice, layering in NOI religious propaganda whenever possible.... But no mention of Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Natasha McKenna, Akai Gurley or any of the young martyrs that have been killed by Police in the last three years. The Justice or Else march felt very much like the NOI making a play for relevance, a feel good gathering to announce America's divine judgment is nigh...and to remind Black America that the Nation is still the leader of the black human rights struggle...the real question is will Black America follow?
Majestice Coles, 25
The Million Man March led by the Honorable Louis Farrakhan was an extremely momentous occasion for my generation. Farrakhan spoke social consciousness into a crowd that is in my opinion largely consciously blind and deaf. Bringing together hundreds of thousands of Black people of all ages shows that our people can unite in a positive way, and our potential for change.
Although I do not agree totally with Farrakhan our generation needs people of action and not only words. We need a movement leading to revolution if we want society to change. Farrakhan gave an empowering speech to Black men and women that will hopefully spark more people to seek the truth about the country we live in, and the circumstances under which we live.
Aaron Boose, 29
“A Monumental Moment”
Put the loud down! Put the loud down? I would but I’m unconscious and don’t hear what’s going on in the world. This isn’t my viewpoint, but the state of many individuals in the world. For as many people that were present at the March, there were just as many people that didn’t hear the powerful words of Minister Louis Farrakhan. Minister Farrakhan made several points, but the words that resonated most with me focused on forgiveness and self-pride. We as a people will hold grudges against someone without even contemplating reconciliation or forgiveness, and on the other hand forgive some actions that have been more detrimental to our communities. I admit that I have been a victim of this mentality, holding a grudge against my father for not being actively involved in my life, but listening to Farrakhan and seeing so many fathers with their sons at the march I realized that I need to forgive my father. The 20th Anniversary of the Million Man March was a monumental moment, but will we be prisoners of the moment or be inspired to be the change we want to see and create a foundation in our communities based on sustainability so we can thrive as a people.
Please plan to attend the Anti-Police Terror actions on October 22nd through 24th during “Rise Up October” events in New York City. Please go to www.RiseUpOctober.org or call: 929-249-7996 for more information
Share your reflections on the “Justice or Else” March in the BAR comment section below.
Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo is the author of No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA. She worked at the EPA for 18 years and blew the whistle on a US multinational corporation that endangered South African vanadium mine workers. Marsha's successful lawsuit led to the introduction and passage of the first civil rights and whistleblower law of the 21st century: the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR Act). She is Director of Transparency and Accountability for the Green Shadow Cabinet, serves on the Advisory Board of ExposeFacts.com and coordinates the Hands Up Coalition, DC.