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The Second Million Man March: The Experience, The Obligation
10/14/2015 4:45:01 PM

By Barney Blakeney

Saturday a busload of men from the Charleston community stood at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Oct. 16, 1995 Million Man March at the same location. I was having breakfast at Wesley UMC where the ladies of the church serve the community each second Saturday from 8 a.m.-11 a.m. The ladies do a great job. They’re all good cooks and Mrs. Carolyn Rose single-handedly raised over $3,000 to help fund the monthly ministry service.

I should have been at the National Mall, but if I had to miss the second million man gathering, I couldn’t have spent the time at a better place. The ladies work hard, but they seem to have fun doing it. They served about 250 meals Saturday. I was at the first Million Man March. My editor sent me and the late Tony Robertson to cover the event for The Chronicle. It was an awesome experience. The Charleston bus left from the old K-Mart parking lot at Rivers and McMillan avenues in North Charleston. The women were asked then, as they were asked again this time, to stay at home. It was a man thing.

I’ll never forget our departure. Tony’s wife, the late Alice Robertson and their granddaughter saw us off. Along with the other women, they sent us away with a sentiment I found heart wrenching. It was like in the movies when women watch their men go off to war. I was eating grits and eggs Saturday as the men from Charleston left the International Longshoremen Association Hall on Morrison Drive. I guess, in a sense, I still got the spiritual feeding women give their men as they send them off to do battle in the world. For the past few days I’ve been curious as to whether the men who went to the ‘gathering’ this time felt any of the same things I felt the last time.

I stood among thousands of Black men doing my reporter thing, watching and witnessing. A sea of Black men, young and old also were there, together in a spirit of oneness. As we listened to the day-long parade of speakers every face seemed to say, “Brother I’ve got your back”. It was a silent commitment manifested by mutual respect and honor.

For whatever reason, I remember periodically leaving my camera bag to wander off after some picture or other. I’d glance back to the spot where I left my bag to see some guy, a different guy every time, whoever may have been standing nearby when I left, standing over the bag as if on guard. None of the guys ever acknowledged they kept their eyes on the bag for me and I never acknowledged my appreciation. It was like a code of honor.

By the end of the day I realized that “I’ve got your back” look was a symbol of our unspoken commitment to return to our respective communities and perpetuate what we experienced that day. Charleston’s Juneteenth celebration is part of the perpetuation.

I asked a couple of brothers who attended Saturday’s gathering if they experienced any of the same feelings I did. They said today, 20 years later, the gathering was different in many ways, yet the same.

Brian Muhammad of Columbia, a writer for the Final Call, said in 1995 Black men gathered to make atonement for a lot of stuff and to commit themselves to improving their communities. In the 20 years that has transpired since 1995, Black America finds itself at a critical juncture.

He said he thinks the overwhelming view this time was that Black men must decide for self determination or perish. In 1995 it was atonement. In 2015 it is survival. The common thread is that the shared suffering of Black people crosses the generations, he said.

Imam DeAndre Muhammad of the Muhammad Study Group of Charleston said the gathering was awesome, “A beautiful time”. That about 1 million men returned to the National Mall 20 years later indicates the impact of the first gathering. And it shows that the cross section of youth/elders, organizations/religions, street people and intellectuals are willing to work together for a common cause. As 20 years ago, the men of the 2015 gathering also received marching orders, a mandate to return to their respective communities and improve them.

Paramount is their mandate to work to stop the killing and bring about conflict resolution. At a Sunday leadership meeting the men were given a list of nine ministries they are to initiate. The areas of the ministries are information, education, health and human services, defense, trade and commerce, art and culture, technology and science, agriculture and justice.

Another priority is to boycott the commercialization of Christmas. Muhammad explained that the Christ in Christmas has been replaced with Santa Claus and commercialization. He said Christ is the reason for the season. The effort is to begin the Friday following Thanksgiving. From what I’ve heard those who attended the gathering Saturday experienced much of what I did at the first gathering - a inspiration to return to their communities and make a difference. I’m hoping this generation of Black men has more success.

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