Unity to combat police violence. Unity to defeat white supremacy. Unity to face inner-city crime. Unity to build a productive and formidable Black community. The message within the messages were clear, as an estimated 1 million Black people attended the Million Man March 20th anniversary rally on the National Mall in D.C., on 10.10.15.
Despite no major mainstream media exposure—but with the support of some Black press and Black social media—the people came, and for almost two hours, Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan took to the stage and urged unity in all its facets.
From early in the morning, the “Justice or Else” program drew many speakers who touched on every issue, from the white supremacist agenda permeating everything from police slaughter of innocent Black men, women and children, to substandard education, poor housing and planned urban decay, to the plight of veterans and immigrants, to the orchestrated infighting on Hispaniola between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. A video of police-slain Black men, women and children held everyone’s attention.
It was not a pity party. It was an enlightening session, a call to raise up and rise up to surmount an imposed condition that, by design, is preventing people of color from collectively gaining a rightful and equitable place at the social, political and economic table.
“No other man except for Minister Farrakhan has brought a million of us together,” said New York Assemblyman Charles Barron. “Now it is time for people to do what they need to do.”
While Black folks—African-American, Caribbean-American, Continental African—showed up in great number, American-residing Latinos from a variety of countries came as well. The indigenous peoples (so-called Native Americans) were represented by several tribes and took to the podium to both bless and acknowledge the appreciation from the Nation of Islam. There was much prayer and words of guidance from Christian and Muslim clergy. And then there was the fiery rhetoric from victims of police and institutionalized racist violence and injustice.
With FOI, MGT (Muslim Girls in Training) and suited members of the Nation of Islam striving to coordinate this massive undertaking, tens of thousands moved through the mall to get a vantage point to witness this historic event.
Bloods and Crips were seen embracing, bikers from across the land rode in support and solidarity and grassrooters from all manner of organizations sat or stood side by side, viewing the stage or Jumbotron screens as they listened to a myriad of speakers demand justice and action for issues that affect oppressed and subjugated inner-city, urban and rural Black communities. From prosecution of killer cops to reparations for centuries of oppression, to building up families and guiding a disaffected youth, to withholding dollars over Thanksgiving and Christmas, to supporting the formerly incarcerated, speakers took to the mic to espouse various positions over six hours.
“There will be a ripple effect from the Million Man March 20th anniversary rally 10.10.15,” said Roger Wareham, international human rights lawyer and member of the December 12th Movement. “People will take what they heard from Minister Louis Farrakhan and others and use it in their daily lives as they move forward.”
Passionate speakers such as the Rev. Willie Wilson, Tamika Mallory, Cora Masters Barry, wife of the late Mayor Marion Barry, Palestinian activist Linda Sansour, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Jamal Bryant urged the Black and Brown communities to shape up and get into fighting form to address the onslaught of community-targeted issues that halt progress but maintain a tragic status quo. Speaking on ending the European/Western-fueled fight on Hispaniola, Nation of Islam Haiti and Dominican Republic representatives Joseph Makhandal and Vladimir X called for unity on an island split apart by colonial flags.
Women for Justice established for the audience that women make up half of the force needed to balance everything out. “Our women are the key!” Farrakhan declared as a video detailed women’s struggles as heads of single-parent families, victims of gender-based violence, recipients of unequal pay and employment opportunities. “You mean everything to our struggle.”
Sister Ava Muhammad, Farrakhan’s national spokesperson, sought to inspire a sense of purpose, to move forward and unify with righteous motivation. She said, “It is only the Black man and woman in America who have been called upon by our former slave masters to forgive and forget—while we are being slaughtered. We are taking that no longer. We are in obedience to Allah, his Christ and the nature in which we are created. What is the role of the woman? Every female in every species comes to the defense of her offspring. There is no male of any species that will not come to the defense of the female of that species It is the core of his being. So when a man sees his woman under attack, it is his duty to come to her aid.”
Rapper Mysonne, the General, declared to an eager and appreciative audience, “We mean justice or else we gonna withhold our wealth! We gonna give them back their Christmas and leave those toys on that shelf!”
Speakers such as Ferguson’s Torry Russell did not mince words. “Ain’t no one gonna save us,” he said. “I’m not waiting for nothing to fall out of the sky. I’m not waiting for your national hashtag to come save me.” He would instead do as a host of Ferguson “local names with a national impact” have done—just do the work for his community.
He slammed the nation for forgetting the city that rocked the country last summer. But, he said, the work goes on regardless in terms of self-determination and community growth. People have asked what the “or else” is. “Ferguson is the or else,” he answered.
All eyes watched the club that no one wants to be in as the mothers, fathers and families of police-violence victims took to the stage: Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner; Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, parents of Trayvon Martin, and his brother, Jahvaris Fulton; Leslie MacFadden, mother of Mike Brown; Valerie Bell, mother of Sean; Kadiatou Diallo, mother of Amadou; and the families of Sandra Bland, Mohammed Bah, Tamir Rice and Akai Gurley.
For two hours, Farrakhan delivered the keynote address. While many waited with bated breath for an Earth-shattering “or else,” Farrakhan navigated his words far from any explosive rhetoric. But he wasn’t gentle with his call for Black people to be about the business of self-determining resurrection.
“These young people are looking for fearless leadership,” he said. “Leadership that it is willing to sacrifice its life to see a better future for our children, because that’s who we work for. We who are getting older, what good are we if we don’t prepare the next generation to carry the torch of liberation to the next step. There are some elders who are not worthy to pass on the legacy of their cowardice to our young people.”
He preached on misplaced forgiveness: “Find me a Jew that will forgive Hitler.” He challenged his audience on the unquestioning acceptance of rewritten historical context and misconceptions about Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln, of whom he charged his ultimate goal was “preserving the Union, and not freeing you.”
“That’s why you’re still singing,” he admonished. “You’ve been tricked. You’ve been took. You’ve been deceived.”
The minister pulled no punches on the quandary of some people’s penchant to forgive white killers of Black people, such as in Charleston, before they have even had time to grieve.
“The wrath of God is upon us,” Farrakhan said. “You wanna know what is ‘or else’? Justice for Pharaoh isn’t the same as justice for the children of Israel. Justice for the oppressed is not the same as justice for the oppressor. Mercy is for the oppressed.”
Because the holiday season is upon us, he is advising the people to withhold that $4 billion spent by Black folk at Christmas. “Dr. King wanted us to redistribute the pain,” he said.
Suppose, he suggested, they make the holiday about the religious event it was supposed to be. “Show love and forgiveness and reconcile within the family,” he said, and ultimately spend that saved $4 billion on purchasing 100 million acres from the government, plant and grow crops and feed people with a healthy diet.
“The Million Man March 20th Anniversary drew hundreds of thousands in spite of the general media’s success in blocking interviews and news of the event prior to a few days before Saturday,” said Brother Leroy Baylor, radio host of WHCR Communicators. “My personal estimate is that there was over a million men, women, plus families. Twenty years ago, the enemy tried hiring many Negro influencers and its own propaganda machine to torpedo the 1995 event. But the turnout of Black men was so overwhelming, it sent a message that the consciousness of Black people was such that if negatives are thrown against Farrakhan, it has the opposite effect.”
The air of family was palatable as people from Harlem stood next to people from places such as Compton, Baltimore and Cleveland, Brooklyn and Staten Island.
“I wanted a call to action,” Michael J. told the Amsterdam News. The Chicagoan said he rode up with a crew of young people who were waiting on the word to answer police brutality and inner-city violence. “I was hoping the minister would speak to the youth on these issues that effect us every day.”
“The ‘Or Else’ belongs to us,” another observer pointed out. “It always has been. We know what it is. We are living it.”
“Farrakhan is a known quantity,” said a community activist, speaking on the lack of an expected call to action. “He is a minister. What do ministers say? They speak about storms coming and floods and bad weather to show the people the wrath of God! That’s what he did. Other people spoke about other forms of ‘or else.’”
“A million of us came out without the white media support, but with the support of the Amsterdam News and other Black media,” said Barron. “They are fortunate that 1 million Black people gathered peacefully without incident after they murder so many innocent men, women and children. We are warning them though that if they don’t heed what we say peacefully, there is coming a time when we don’t say, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot,’ and say instead, ‘Hands down, shoot back.’ Now you can’t breathe.”
In the crowd were pop culture artists Sean “P Diddy” Combs, J Cole, Yazz from TV’s “Empire,” Young Jeezy, Snoop, Common, Ty $ Sign, Yandy and Mendecees, and “Atlanta Housewives” stars Porsha Williams and Phaedra Parks.
Carmen Perez of Justice League NYC voiced the refrain, “If we don’t get it, we must shut it down!”
“I thought it was very significant that a million people came from around the country without any major media, just word of mouth and the Black press, to express our collective dissatisfaction with the current condition in 2015,” said Wareham. “This can be a jumping off point for whatever we sum up needs to happen. This was a mobilizing of a million people, and the ripple effect with the people they affect to the extent that it galvanizes Black community to get back into the street to express our outrage with what issues we are facing.”