Million Man March 20 years later

5/29/2015, 9:54 a.m.
On Oct. 16, we will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March. In the subsequent two decades black ...
Benjamin Chavis

Benjamin Chavis Jr.

On Oct. 16, we will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March. In the subsequent two decades black Americans have experienced great triumphs, tragedies and tribulations.

This anniversary of the Million Man March will have a special meaning and significance for black America and all who continue to thirst and struggle for freedom, justice and equality. Preparing for this milestone will require not only reflections of the triumphs of that great day of successful mass mobilization, but also that we assess where we are today and where we should be in the future to progress and advance our cause.

Of course, today there are millions of younger black americans who are under the age of 20 and many of them may have heard or read about the Million Man March. But most of our youths today are not really aware of the pivotal, life-changing impact of that “Holy Day of Atonement, Reconciliation and Responsibility” for the more than 1.2 million black men who assembled resolute in spiritual unity at the Million Man March on Monday, Oct. 16, 1995, in Washington.

There is an old African proverb that says if you do not share your triumphs and achievements with the youths of the village, then the future of the village’s progress will be put in greater jeopardy. Likewise, there should be a concerted effort to inform our youths about how the Million Man March had a positive effect on the men and their families who participated in the largest single gathering of black americans in the history of America.

Confounding the legions of critics, there was no violence, no drunkenness, no drugs, no physical fights and no acts of self-destruction and degradation at any point during that day. Instead, what was displayed during that eventful day was an unprecedented example of black brotherhood, camaraderie, solidarity and commitment to improve the quality of life of the black family and the black diaspora.

When Minister Louis Farrakhan issued the call for the Million Man March, I believed that it was not only possible to achieve the goal of getting more than a million Black men of all ages and backgrounds to assemble and stand together, but also I knew that it would have the potential to change the mindset, consciousness and behavior of millions of our brothers.

We must remember that prior to October 1995, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had declared that young black males had become an endangered species because of the escalating rate of fratricide and homicide. On the day of the Million Man March, the black-on-black crime rate went down to its lowest rate since crime statistics have been recorded. The Million Man March also caused a significant decrease in black high school dropout rates immediately during the first year after the march. There was an increase in black voter registration by more than 1.5 million people after the march.

Now it is 20 years later, and we should be preparing to celebrate the progress that has been made and to focus on those areas where we are experiencing a recurring hopelessness and self-destruction. The Million Man March showed beyond the shadow of any doubt that we do have the capacity to change for the better. If we can do it on one day, we should be able to do it every day, every week, month and every year.

There will be certainly much more written and hopefully done to prepare for the much needed “revival” of the spirit and substance of the Million Man March going forward. The future of the oppressed is not in the hands of the oppressor. Our future is in our own capable hands if we would all work together more effectively.

The writer is president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, and served as national director of the Million Man March Organizing Committee.