It was 17 years ago, Oct. 25, 1997, that Black women from across the nation gathered in Philadelphia, Pa., for the first Million Woman March to highlight the need for a movement to restructure the image of Black women.

The march was the culmination of the work of two Philadelphia grassroots activists, Empress Phile Chionesu and Asia Coney. The day-long march, which began at the Liberty Bell and ended on the steps of the historic Philadelphia Museum of Art, sought to bring together Black women to address the issues facing their communities, such as poverty, the nurturing of young children, politics, the ongoing Civil Rights Movement and strengthening Black families.

Organizers held a press conference Oct. 25 at 52nd and Lancaster Avenue in West Philly to announce the establishment of an “annual celebration” to commemorate “Million Woman March Day.” “We must and will now tell the story of the Million Woman March and to preserve our history and legacy,” Chionesu told the AmNews during an exclusive interview. She said a documentary about the march will be released in 2016.

“Only a few people know the real story behind the organizing of the Million Woman March,” Chionesu said. Most of the early work was underground, beginning in November 1995, weeks after the Million Man March.

“I believed at the time that a Million Woman March was the natural next step after the Million Man March, and to my surprise, there wasn’t anything planned, so following a vision I had, we began to organize,” said Chionesu. “There wasn’t any established organizational mechanism for Black women at the time to put such an event together.”

We called a press conference in Philadelphia in February 1997, and only two reporters showed up, she said. “The organizational work was done at the [grass] root—people who don’t normally get to be on board—the sister in recovery, on welfare joined with sisters who were lawyers to build the movement that produced the 1997 march,” Chionesu noted.

Some observers and historians say that the Million Woman March did not rely on big names or the usual celebrities from the Civil Rights Movement to fuel attendance, estimated at 750,000. However, leaders such as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the former wife of South African President Nelson Mandela, and California Rep. Maxine Waters addressed the gathering.

“Our support of Congresswoman Waters was crucial, because she had exposed the genesis of the crack cocaine epidemic that has had such a devastating impact on our women,” Chionesu noted.

The two-day celebration in Philadelphia this past weekend, Oct. 25 and 26, noted the renewal of the spirit of the Million Woman March, according to Chionesu.

“Little did we know that the violation of our women would increase drastically over the past 17 years; the murder and mutilation of our women reaching epidemic proportions,” observed Chionesu. The Million Woman March has established the Million Woman Universal Movement, a global effort to call attention to the violation of the human rights of women worldwide. Chionesu calls this the only authentic next step and legitimate offspring from the largest gathering in the world of women anywhere, ever.

The issue of the treatment of women was the subject of discussion during a special United Nations Security Council meeting Oct. 28. Deputy Permanent Representative of Egypt to the U.N. Osama Abdel Khalek said, “Egypt recognizes that women’s economic, cultural, political and social empowerment is the linchpin for a life free of violence. Egypt is deeply concerned about the increasing rates and patterns of violence against women and girls, mass displacement flows and related humanitarian challenges during 2014.”

The Million Woman March’s 17th annual celebration also served as an organizing tool for next year’s Black Women’s Political and Power Convention. Plans incude establishing community organizations and business networks, such as the African Women’s Merchants Association and a Million Woman March “Give Back, Take Back the Land and Our Community Day.”