History can be a very relative term to use, especially when describing what took place in Washington D.C. this past October. To some, this year’s gathering of the Million Man March, with its tagline “Justice or Else,” was a commemoration of sorts, while to others it was a mere reminder of how little the United States has truly progressed in the 20 years since Minister Louis Farrakhan called for a million Black men to gather at the steps of the Nation’s capitol in 1995. In parallel to the issues that brought about the original Million Man March, we still suffer from a melee of issues, including police brutality, poverty, and institutional, systemic oppression.
In an effort to share what he considered a very important message for citizens of New Orleans, Student Minister Willie Muhammad, along with other members of the local chapter at the Nation of Islam at Mosque 46 in New Orleans East, organized two charter buses in order to help get people from the Crescent City to Washington D.C. for the march. “The purpose of this gathering was not to be a march, but a call to action! “We sought to galvanize all those who want justice to come and state their grievances against this government and its municipalities before the world,” Brother Willie said.
Thursday evening before the March, families, elderly people, and teenagers of various faiths and backgrounds convened in the parking lot of Winn- Dixie at Chef Menteur Highway to prep themselves for the 18-hour trip. Along the way I managed to make a few new friends and become closer to some current ones. We endured what ended up being a 24 hour ride that left backs aching, but all for the purpose of waking up Saturday morning to find a staggering amount of people from all over the country, united to take a stand.
The seven hour program was clearly not a march. The “Justice or Else” tagline used for the gathering was in contrast to the ‘95 Million Man March, which was slated as a day of atonement for Black men to acknowledge their shortcomings in dedication to their communities. In response to this, representatives from various agencies, including disenfranchised veterans, education reform activists, prison reformers, and Native-American speakers all took time to address the large crowd before Farrakhan took the podium around 1 p.m. In my wake was such a large number of people of such diverse range I could hardly believe all of them fit into one space. The most striking thing to me about the whole thing was the spectrum of people that ran pretty much the entire gamut of human life: Rastafarians, Christian leadership groups, Middle Eastern Muslims, white hippy kids with dreadlocks, down to your concerned citizens that you would see every day on your streets while checking the mail.
Of course, the Nation of Islam made its presence felt. The FOI (Fruit of Islam), Vanguard of the Nation of Islam, stood post, making sure the day went by without incident. Brother Martin of Mosque 46 explained: “We understand that this message isn’t necessarily for us. While we who are in the Nation would love to hear Minister Farrakhan speak, we take it as our responsibility to ensure the safety of those who may be hearing this message for the very first time.” After a long day standing on their feet, the FOI then proceeded to remove garbage from the day-long gathering on the Capitol grounds.
Our trip back to New Orleans commenced immediately after the last words by Farrakhan. Everyone felt a natural high off being so near and dear to the advancement of not just Black people, but our country as a whole. In spite of this, many were exhausted from the day and slept the whole way back home, myself included. Upon our return, the Local Organizing Committee immediately began work on the agenda to be implemented in accordance with keeping New Orleans safe and promoting “Justice or Else.” One of those programs involves making the office of the New Orleans Police Monitor independent and keeping Susan Hutson as its director, to ensure the fair treatment of arrested persons and due consequences for officers convicted of police brutality. Additionally, ways to funnel money back into Black communities are being called to be acted on, including a boycott of Christmas and Black Friday spending. These are just two methods the Local Organizing Committee are employing. More info can be found at justiceorelse.com.
Justice Or Else is not just a catchy slogan, nor was it just a one day event. It is the beginning of a movement towards true equality for all people of America, regardless of race, creed, or whatever alternate factors they intend to use to divide us.