The Million Man March
BY JEROME SMALLS
Every one of us attending the Million Man March last month proved something to ourselves that was more important than what we were proving to the world and that was that we are our own man! Nobody owns us! And nobody was going to tell us who to support, follow or listen to, in reference to Minister Farrakhan.
We left Charleston around 8 a.m. Sunday, moving out in buses full of courageous men. Being an old hippie from the '60s, after I asked the Muslims if there would be special buses for those of us who smoke or drink, or might eat something different from them. They said no, and that since it was a day of atonement we should abstain. I sought a ride on the Rastas' bus, or Greyhound, knowing I couldn't make it all the way to Washington, D.C., without lighting up or taking a sip.
Along the way we watched videos Brother Calvin Malone brought along. He's a very serious-minded community organizer, so he practically kept us in a classroom mind-expanding environment with all this intellectual stuff, almost spoiling the trip for those of us who just wanted to kick back, enjoy the ride and have some fun along the way. Man, this new generation doesn't know how to party on a bus! I miss those good old days when we could eat, drink and be merry.
The first sign that the march would be huge and close to the million mark was finding out there were no available hotel rooms in the D.C. area, so we spent the night in Alexandria, Va.
We got there around 9:30 at night, and Calvin scheduled checkout at 4:30 a.m. so we didn't have much time to fool around (but I tried). In the hotel lounge many of us settled in with a good drink and something to eat, and we met and chatted with brothers from all over America. Everyone was eager yet meditative. We were ready to prove America wrong about us.
A friend and co-worker, Willie Waring, was my roommate. Just as old as I, but swearing he was up to hanging out with the young folks, stayed in the lounge as I prepared to crash.
We got up at 3:30 a.m., when it was still dark outside, and heard Calvin's military orders. Some who didn't have hangovers were covering their ears, still sleepy, groggy and barely moving. I had to go back to rush Willie along. He was the last to board the bus.
The chilly D.C. wind woke us up fully. And the brisk walk for a quarter of a mile to the steps of the Capitol resembled an army on the move, energizing from every direction into one great mass.
By 5:30 a.m. we were standing on the fence, four feet above the crowds, with a magnificent view of the stage but we were being packed in like sardines. Although I hated to give up this spot from where Willie and I could hold up our protest banners to the hundreds of flashing cameras and lights to show that South Carolina was well represented, I began walking around with my posters to let the brothers there know South Carolina was there. I saw several people from Charleston whom I'd known, and met scores more from across the state. It had happened!
It happened even though the Christian community was asked not to be involved with Muslims from the Nation of Islam. No one listened when we said the march wasn't about Minister Farrakhan but about us doing for ourselves
It happened, even though they tried to discourage the very females we were to lift up on a deserving pedestal. It happened with love, even though they tried to inject it with doses of hate. And what was most enlightening to white folks was that it happened without even one person getting cut, stabbed or shot.
One million black men assembled in the nation's capital and not one of them was arrested for a crime. Even Uncle Tom feared his master would shoot us all down like dogs because he feared the power of this gathering. Now even Toms know there's a certain dignity in facing death instead of remaining slaves.
It's ironic the way whites pretend not to understand the differences between black separatists who don't want to continue living with people who've treated them so brutally and the white supremacists who feel all other races should be slaves or annihilated.
And some of these white critics were the first to blame black men for not doing enough to help solve our people's problems. Yet now, seeing us come together determined to deal with our problems, they still try to find fault because Minister Farrakhan called us together rather than one of their government-approved Negro leaders.
When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., led the March on Washington, and although he was a Christian minister, we had Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, etc., but no one criticized that. People were urged to better themselves and their communities. People were taught to love themselves and each other as God wished. Who but our enemies could be disapproving?
So, long live the spirit of the Million Man March!
Jerome Smalls is director of People United to Live and Let Live, a Charleston-based community activist organization.