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Walking Amongst Giants: An Account of the 16th Anniversary of the Million Man March

I can remember as a young man the feeling of unity that existed among my people. There existed a feeling that the person next to you in your school, on your block, and/or in your church shared a common bond. This bond was echoed throughout every black community in America with a unified cry of “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud.1” It would seem however; as the epoch have changed in our nation so has the mantra of the black community. The credo has transformed from the 1968 stirring melody to an unrelenting undercurrent of “I’m black and I’m unemployed.” It was to address this matter of joblessness that a sea of African American men, converged on our nation’s capital some sixteen years ago. The Million Man March, has become in this writer’s eye, a moment of unequalled assent for the black male in America. A peaceful demonstration, which lead to no gun fire, no acts of violence and no arrest. It is in the Pennsylvania Convention Center that this momentous occasion would be celebrated upon its sixteenth anniversary. This writer had the opportunity to be that proverbial fly on the wall; and was grateful.

My walk or journey began, not really with the loading in of the technological equipment for which I had been purposed to engineer, but with the brief yet powerful face to face meeting with the son of the late Honorable Elijah Muhammad; Ishmael. This gentleman, not by mere appearance but also by demeanor, greeted me with a smile bright enough to warm even the coldest Muslim skeptic. Mind you I am not a skeptic at all, but I would imagine after meeting this brother not many would continue on that path if it were previously trod upon. His suit laid down by an iron like the straightest of rail road tracks headed undeniably west. Not a hair out of place, to be certain you would notice as well. Then the traditional greeting, spoke as common place as a hello; as-salaam-alaikum. I cannot deny at that moment a sincere feeling of peace. I have throughout my career sat in the presence of nation’s presidents, dignitaries and heads of states. I am accustomed to greeting millionaires and global music icons. Standing in that place at that moment however, I grasped the hand of history. I looked into eyes that have watched from the front lines the struggle, success and continued struggles of a people. Today I was walking amongst giants. It was clear to me that the words heard this day would not soon go forgotten. In our brief moment, Minister Ishmael used poise, humor and directness to both inform us of his wishes and to ease the burden of his dutiful demands. Then, just as soon as the minister had approached and discussed the particulars of the production he receded to the draped off, back stage section of the room, no doubt to tend to the next item on the pre-event agenda. As things were approved on stage, behind me I could hear the rustling of hall A and B’s doors. Like a wind pushing against the shutters of an old house, the awaiting crowd was respectfully anxious to enter the hall.

The doors opened. The gentle flood of first few, then tens, then hundreds flowed into the room. The billowing white clouds of garb mixed with the crisp influx of black suits accented by the unmistakable bow ties looked to be a non-verbal shout of present, as if a school teacher had somehow been taking roll. Brothers filled the spacious room, heels clicking from mirror-like shined Stacy Adams and Kenneth Coles. The women, soft and smiling, angelic-like wrapped in white from head to toe gave the sense of motherhood along with the safety that lies there in. It was a sea of solidarity, a wave of oneness; it was battalion of my black people. As the first greeter approached the dais, the room grew silent with no request; not that it had ever reached a level of noisiness in the first place. Following the slightly botched line of Arabic mishaps by the obvious non-Muslim members of the dais along with the pontification of many a local and regionally dignitaries and celebrities, the moment had come. How do you introduce a giant?[pullquote_right]I looked into eyes that have watched from the front lines the struggle, success and continued struggles of a people. Today I was walking amongst giants[/pullquote_right]

Have you ever stood in the presence of Dr. Martin Luther King and heard him deliver a speech that would cause you to rethink your very principles and morals? Maybe you have had the occasion to glance between the paparazzi and feel the unmistakable presence of a mega star. Or to have been in the room when God drops down an acronym that forges a Biblical principal in your mind, never to be forgotten again by Pastor Barry DeVine.  Have you ever walked among giants? If you have than you know that giants need no introduction. You can see them coming from a mile away. You can hear their footsteps via the thunder of applause and adoration from the surrounding crowds.  Suddenly, Minister Louis Farrakhan was at the microphone. Smiling, gently waving his hands as a sign for the thousands on hand to take their seats, he speaks; “alright now sit down” in a kind but stern, grandfatherly way.

It was off to the races, covering the history of the occasion and the highlights of past accomplishments he presses on to firmly announce; “the time for marching is over.” Grabbing the masses in a verbal head lock, his patterned, seasoned speech turned stern and disciplining. Scolding everyone from the leader of the United States for being too “weak kneed” in office, to the common “negro” for not demanding that he do other-wise. This giant, who walked with Minister Malcolm X and the like during the riotous American sixties, cried louder, “the time for marching is over.” No more did he seek to see black people begging the government for employment. It was time for the people to rise up and create opportunities for themselves.

Minister Farrakhan called out the names of some of America’s prominent Black Billionaires, calling for them to unite financial wealth and consider founding the first Black National Bank. Through this medium blacks could borrow the resources needed to buy land and property, yet this was no pie in the sky dream. Farrakhan allowed the emergence of, the often feared violent rhetoric that accompanies the Black Muslim persona in America. This was done by asserting that the customers of the proposed Black Bank need not worry about the likes of Bernie Madoff 2; for if improprieties were found, “we [the Nation of Islam] would simply kill them”. The cheers that sprang up from a call for lynch mob activities shook the room. The masses for whatever reason, be-it unemployment, governmental desperation or simply the shadow of this giant, stood in applause at the thought of corporal punishment. Could it be that people have grown weary of the usual pandering that has become the nightly news that they would be ready to not only change their mindset about financial strategy but also about social order? The cake that accompanied the meal was too heavy for me.[pullquote_left]No more did he seek to see black people begging the government for employment[/pullquote_left]

I enjoyed the idea of the first Black Bank and the call for our people to rise up and create opportunities for ourselves, however once that is levied with violence and a disregard for societal structure even amongst the microcosm of Black society, we all lose. This giant clearly has his head above the crowd enough to see the breaking horizon and prescribe some great ideas as to how to best reach that Shangri-La. However, what of the people down on mortal ground, who end up inevitably charged with tax evasion or assault and battery for taking the law into their own hands? Has the giant forgotten about the humbled man? I am not certain, yet the push continued throughout the speech, calling for unification, and an end to laziness amongst Black men. A need was shown for the man of color to start to un-bury himself and rise to the occasion of building communities through stronger families and common finances; to be aware, to be strong, to be present; “to rise up, rise up, rise up.”

1. Brown, James (1968) Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud. King Records USA
2. Forbes (2011) Chasing Madoff: a Documentary with a Memory located at

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