Ten years ago, hundreds of thousands of black men answered Minister Louis Farrakhan’s call for action, gathering in Washington, D.C. in one of the largest demonstrations the city had ever seen.
But for many members of the black community, the fight for equality continues, and University students are traveling to the nation’s capital to reemphasize the goals of the original Million Man March and mobilize for social change.
The Millions More Movement, led once again by Farrakhan, hopes to attract men, women and children from around the country to address and discuss issues important to the black community, such as health care, educational disparities and reparations for the descendants of slaves. Participants and supporters of the march hope this year’s rally will produce a stronger and more visible impact than that of the original.
Despite the high attendance and great optimism for political and social change on the part of the participants, for many the Million Man March showed how difficult the enduring mobilization of a people can be.
History Prof. Kevin Gaines, director of the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies, said in retrospect, the march was more a reflection of the hope and desire for an effective political organization than an actual movement, and that those who aligned themselves with the march were ultimately disappointed.
“The march came at a conservative moment in American politics – it coincided with Republicans gaining a majority in Congress and a government agenda, in many respects, hostile to equal rights and the interests of black people,” Gaines said.
Gaines added that with the controversy surrounding the governmental response to Hurricane Katrina and the extent to which it has revealed racial and economic equality, the political climate surrounding this year’s march is significantly different.
“A lot of conservative assumptions about the role of government have been severely tested, and a larger segment of the public is willing to question those ideals.”
“But if the purpose is merely to commemorate the past march, then I don’t think it is going to have an impact worthy of the effort and the mobilization.”
Although black student organizations on campus have recognized the march annually with a day of atonement, this rally is the first opportunity for many student activists to participate in a large-scale social movement.
Anissa Adkins, a graduate student in the School of Social Work who helped organize the trip, said she feels the participation of students will foster awareness and responsibility in the black community.
“Our generation has as much spirit for activism and passion for social justice as the civil rights generation,” Adkins said. “We express it in different ways, but it is there.”
“To be with thousands of people with the same goals and passion,” Adkins said, “There is the opportunity to come away with a stronger understanding of the vision this march represents and to inspire us as students to continue to pursue social change and not accept the devastation still prevalent in the black community.”
Riana Anderson, president of the campus chapter of the NAACP, said the trip is also important because it will promote a greater sense of unity among members of the black community, regardless of their position in the University.
“It is important to involve members of our community and show them that they have a voice for themselves and they have a voice in us as leaders of these organizations,” Anderson said.
“I think there are a lot of issues on this campus dealing with race, and it is important to make sure people can find unity within their communities,” she said.
“There is a realization for some community members about what we can expect and what is acceptable in terms of our treatment. (This march) is a way for discussions to be prevalent around some of these issues we have been dealing with.”