It was Oct 10, 1995, twenty years ago.
I was an undergrad student at Morgan State University, an HBCU(Historically Black College and University) and this day could possibly be “the day” for black men in my generation. We didn’t have a “I have a dream” speech or a prominent black leader or any notions of a black President. We had talked about this day in class, on the yard, at my job. I was in living Baltimore, MD, the home of “The Wire” when it was actually happening also right after the popular live sitcom “Roc” went off the air. I never understood that why a positive black show was taken off the air…hmm. It was before the murder of Freddie C. Gray, Jr. in fact, Freddie was only about 5 years old. There were no body cams, no cell phone recordings so I can’t imagine how the notion of police corruption was even taken seriously. Remember, this was after the 1991 acquittal of Los Angeles police beating of Rodney King, but this was before 9/11 “united the nation” so…if you remember the silent war on black men was ongoing and active. I was on the front lines in college listening to Public Enemy “Fight the Power“. Kevin Garnett was the first NBA player drafted out of high school, influencing millions of black men that they didn’t need a college education.
I was on the edge of my bed in my 380 sq ft studio apt watching the live broadcast of the event in DC as the numbers tallied up 250,000…..300,000 moving closer to 1 million and it was only about 11am, this was our day.
Days before the “Day of Atonement” I was challenged with statements…”Are you muslim? Didn’t he have something to do with the death of Malcolm X, Why can’t women attend? Are you going to work? Why does he need 1 million men? Does it cost money? What’s going to happen?” I didn’t have any answers but I needed to be there.
I was on the edge of my bed distressed because I wasn’t there and I was missing our day!
Then my friend Ed, a fellow student from Philly called me and said, “Yo Rob, you still need a ride?” I responded, “YEAH MAN, where are you?!?!” I’m around the corner.
…I’m coming down stairs RIGHT NOW!”
Me, Ed and Larry(I think that’s his name), were on our way to DC. We didn’t know the DC area but as soon as we saw the capital dome, we parked. It was on the edge of capital hill somewhere, probably about 5 miles away from the mall but we didn’t care. Adrenalin and anticipation was at it’s highest, it was a day for us and I was going to be there. We were walking so fast we were skipping, almost trotting.
When we arrived it was like we were on a set for a black movie from the 70’s minus the afro haircuts. Everyone was speaking to each other, all the brothers were cool, positive, and everybody was black and proud. The most significant thing, to me, was that I felt safe. It’s not that I go around feeling unsafe but imagine being among a million brothers and you know if something went down, they all had your back…that kinda safe. It was a euphoric feeling that I had never felt and I’ll probably will never feel it again.
My pride about that feeling and that event has never changed.
What bad I can remember about that day had nothing to do with the event. Everything negative happened after the event, when I made it back home. On television, the black priests were preaching against it. The other black leaders were speaking about it in disapproval, some white people were dismissing the minister as antisemitic. People were asking what happened to all the money. The Pope was visiting the area and there was some competitive debates about who had the most attendees. It was disappointing but it didn’t matter, the day went off without any violence or something we could be ridiculed about later. It was our day and I was there. I just turned the TV off and went to sleep happy.
I’m sure the event affected all men differently. I don’t know what other men did when they left the event and I don’t know if they changed their lives when they went home but for me, I joined the Washington DC Chapter of Concerned Black Men, Inc right after the Million Man March.
That was twenty years ago and today I’m the Vice Chairman of the National Organization. Currently, I’m in the position to be elected Chairman of the board, the head of the organization. I couldn’t have ever predicted this path I’m on. I can’t even understand how it happened. I can’t say I owe the minister for my 20 years volunteer service but I can credit him for being the architect of that event and setting me on this blessed path. Since that one positive event, I’ve been fortunate to continue to have positive things happen to me. I’ve tried to be a good example to my family, friends, and youth I mentor.
I want to pull a message about this twenty year piece of my life at the risk of sounding self-righteous. I want to stress how one event can set you on a path. Don’t get me wrong, I could have easily been set on the wrong path.
It’s just that someone sarcastically asked me, “What came out of the first Million Man March?”
At the time, I couldn’t remember that the march was the catalyst for joining the Concerned Black Men, Inc. (DC Chapter).
So I ask you…
What part of your life can you look back on a be proud of?
What path are you on?
Can you get off that wrong path before it’s too late?…it’s never too late.
What are you going to say about your life in twenty years?
Start walking that path, if one doesn’t exist, make your own.
Thanks to Minister Farrakhan for being the architect of that gathering.
Thanks Ed…I owe you brother, wherever you are.