Rahim Islam is a National Speaker and Writer, Convener of Philadelphia Community of Leaders, and President/CEO of Universal Companies, a community development and education management company headquartered in Philadelphia, PA. Follow Rahim Islam on FaceBook(Rahim Islam) & Twitter (@RahimIslamUC)
On October 16, 1995, approximately 2 million Black men went to Washington,D.C, to take personal responsibility for themselves, their families, and for their communities in the Million Man Marchan action that was sorely needed.
While I wasn’t able to attend that historic event, the overall response that I heard from so many who returned to Philadelphia was that it was transformative- a day like nothing they had ever experienced.
I heard statements like “when I reached the stage area on the steps of the Capitol and looked out into a sea of Black men, tears came to my eyes out of love for my people and my fellow brothers.
I knew this day would forever cause a change, if not in the world, it would have a profound change certainly in me.”
Although I felt naturally jealous for not having the opportunity to experience this personally, I was extremely happy for the participants and pledged my commitment to the mission and purpose of the March – personal responsibility.
Significantly, many benefits resulted from the March – far too many to enumerate in this article. The spirit of the March impacted the entire Black community and increased the level of Black pride.
Even those who didn’t attend the March felt proud of the outpouring of so many Black men in Washington, D.C., who were doing something positive. Black pride was positively jolted.
The March projected a powerful visual image of millions of Black men gathered in solidarity, an image that was unlike anything we had ever seen in America.
This wasn’t the typical visual of Black men being arrested and/or being the backdrop for disruptive behavior. Despite a nearly 400-year campaign to emasculate Black men and to assault their abilities to lead, this assertion of Black manhood and responsibility to community and family was very important, rewarding and healing.
Many Black men who took the pledge of selfresponsibility given that day seriously- advanced an explosion in Black voter registration; increased membership in the NAACP, churches and mosques, and developed a number of new organizations of which many still remain in existence today. Notably, the adoption of Black children increased significantly during this time.
The March became the model for public demonstrations and inspired other marches to Washington, D.C., including the Million Woman March, Million Youth and Family March, Million Mom March, and Million Worker March.
In addition, the March became a worldwide model, emulated by mass protest movements in other parts of the world.
In spite of the overwhelming success of the March, there were critics that stated the March didn’t have a specific demand on government and there wasn’t enough follow-up.
For all its stunning symbolic power, the March failed to take the next step, which was converting the rally’s energy into a viable political and social movement.
Some of these criticisms are legitimate but some were just Monday morning quarterbacking. Leadership demands reflective practice.
Reflective practice necessitates that when you plan any event, there are always a ton of things that you could improve if you had to do it over again.
However, some of the critics went overboard with their criticisms, i.e., unrealistic expectations.
Our people are so damaged by our experience in America that we suffer from a deep level of depression, hopelessness, and dysfunction that produces an unrealistic expectation of how deep and sustained change occurs.
Certainly, the March could have produced more (though it remains as an unbelievable accomplishment), but where is the energy, disgust, and disdain for the real culprits – those who have orchestrated the most horrific and inhumane conditions against Black people?
Where is the anger and angst pointed at those who created the need for a Million Man March? It wasn’t like the Black man was and is an equal member of American society.
In fact, the Black man in America is a “targeted” group that is being threatened with a real functional extinction.
The critics of the March seem like they only have the energy to attack the organizers of the March and we see absolute silence from them and nearly every other sector of the Black community when it comes to justice for Black people. Where is the outcry against them?
How come the critics of the March aren’t also criticizing America, at an even higher level, for what it has done and continues to do to Blacks in America – this is clearly a sign of a psychological damage.
The expectation that this March or any march will replace the hard work of building the organizational infrastructure needed to really challenge the systemic and structural racism embedded in America’s institutions is just unrealistic and naive at best.
We can’t wish or pray the challenges away that the Black community face because they are real; they are financial, structural, and psychological.
It’s financial because we live in a capitalistic society where wealth is the measurement for how much you are able to live the American dream and our ancestors were robbed of their earning potential for nearly 400 years.
For 400 years, it was the sweat, blood, and labor of our ancestors that laid the foundation for the wealth amassed by the descendants of White slave owners – the wealth and ownership of all American institutions is still controlled by their descendants.
Being very conservative, some estimate that America owe Black people in America in excess of $30 Trillion and owe the African continent much more. Simply stated, we can’t wish or pray this reality away.
If that wasn’t enough, after the brutal enslavement of Black people, White ancestors use every measure to purposely thwart any attempt by Blacks to openly compete economically in America by denying access to participate in America’s vast and perfected institutions.
Using the brutality of terrorism and an “openly” racist legal system, Blacks were targeted and undermined in spite of an overwhelming advantage by their white counterparts.
Unlike other types of discrimination, the discrimination against Blacks was thorough because it was based on the color of our skin – one can hide their sexuality, race, religion, but one can’t hide his or her blackness.
Even after the hard fought landmark civil rights legislation of the 1960’s was achieved, the climate and culture of racism was fully integrated into the institutions and in the hearts and minds of those that controlled them then and today, these systems are no more friendly or kinder to Black people now than when they were openly racist.
What’s even sadder, is that Black people are supposed to act as if historic or systemic racism and oppression did not happen. White America tells Black people in a thousand different ways to just “get over it” because the playing field has been leveled (“We even have a Black president!”).
The Black man is just lazy and therefore deserving of his place on the economic ladder.
White people are naturally superior to Black people- so just get used to it.
We are also led to believe that there is no such thing as White privilege even though Whites inherit nearly 90% of the national $120 trillion of wealth and Blacks inherit poverty.
Presently, nearly two thirds of all Black people live at/or near poverty and all of the factors (i.e. capital, education, expertise, etc.) that can free one from this fate structurally work against blacks.
Yes, attitude plays a big part but even attitude can’t just wipe away this massive disadvantage.
So the phrase “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” doesn’t apply when you don’t have boots.
These scars are very deeply rooted into the Black psych and their roots can be seen from a heavy dose of White supremacy and Black inferiority (I call this the legacy of slavery).
America was built on racism and now we’re told to forget this fact. Who does this benefit and who does it hurt the most?
I’ll tell you this benefits the children of the slave owners and hurts the children of the enslaved. We can trace many human triumphs during a period when Blacks were so maligned but still prevailed – one of the poignant examples of this, was in spite of what Whites did to Black people, Black people have been some of the most loyal Americans spilling their blood in all of its wars and never retaliating against White people in any way, shape, fashion, or form for the inhumane treatment we experienced at the hands of White people.
Significantly, up until recent history, many Black women raised and served as wet nurses to many of the children of White people.
Unlike other minorities in America that Blacks are often compared to, Blacks have a unique experience – of being forced into involuntary chattel slavery that was orchestrated in the most brutal of ways.
It was not only the scale (it was the largest kidnapping in human history; and it was the length (it lasted more than 300 years) and the type; it was chattel slavery with the enslaved having no rights and their children being destined to becoming slaves unless death occurred first.
Every aspect of the African life, religion, language, and culture was purposefully and strategically broken and shattered to render the Black enslaved ready for a massive programming and mental conditioning.
In the beginning of the American Institution of slavery, the slave masters practiced an extreme level of brutal treatment with the hope that this would force the enslaved to accept his plight and become the highest producing slave.
In many respects, this approach wasn’t sustainable and backfired because the retaliation was constant and it ultimately compromised the profitability of the slave business.
Willie Lynch, a slaveowner from the West Indies, came to the Virginias to advise America slave owners on a newly developed model (a combination of old and new) that if done correctly would control the master’s slaves.
Willie Lynch told the American slave-owners “I caught a wiff of dead slaves hanging from the trees.
You are not only losing valuable stock (enslaved) by hangings, you are having uprisings, slaves are running away, your crops are sometimes left in the fields too long for maximum profits, you suffer fires, your animals are killed.
In my bag, I have a full proof method for controlling your slaves.
I guarantee if installed correctly it will control the slave for at least 300 years.
I have outlined a number of differences among the slaves and I take these differences and make them bigger.
I use fear, distrust, and envy for control purposes. I call this making a slave.”
Doesn’t this sound familiar today?
As a community we are so divided because we have been made to be divided.
Colorism, shade (light versus dark), intelligence, class, where you live (turf wars over areas we don’t even own); east versus west, south versus north, hair (coarse versus straight or long versus short), and age (young versus old) are all subliminal divisions amongst the Black community.
This doesn’t even speak to the religious divide because at that time, slaves weren’t allowed to have any faith.
The belief is that distrust, if manipulated correctly, is stronger than trust. Envy, if manipulated correctly, is stronger than adulation, respect or admiration.
One of the biggest and most important divides was the ability to pit the male against the female.
To be successful, the slave-owners taught the Black female that she couldn’t depend on the Black man nor could the Black man trust the Black woman (this attitude is in full operation today). “If done with fidelity, the female, from a survival perspective, will teach the children to follow suit in perpetuity. “
The one controlling all of these tactics was the White slave-owner who instilled a deep level of fear of the White man and deep level of self-hatred amongst ourselves.
Conscious of the injustice and wrong doings that the White slave-owners were perpetrating on the Black enslaved and what they themselves would do were they the victims – they were constantly looking for the signs of retribution.
This behavior has severely and negatively impacted White people and their fear of Black people is at the highest level and has allowed them to master these tactics which are now completely embedded into the psyche and culture of Black people.
The disturbing reality is the many Blacks don’t know or believe this systemic indoctrination or oppression is possible.
Many of us choose to disbelieve because we know very little of our history in this country and it is just not conceivable that a people can treat another people in the manner in which White people have treated Black people in America.
The deception and mind controlling tactics have severely damaged the Black family, which is the nucleus of any people.
In spite of these inherent fears, Blacks have been overly loyal to White people. In spite of being treated like less than dogs for centuries – the love of Black people for White institutions and validation is overwhelming.
Yes, we have had groups articulate a more assertive response to the oppression of Black people by White people, but even those groups have not defended against blatant hatred and violence being perpetrated by White people against Black people.
This hatred and violence is many times disguised by the use of law enforcement- specifically, using every level of the America’s police force (i.e. FBI, State and Local Police, Task Forces, COINTELPRO, etc.) all Black-led organizations were infiltrated and ultimately squashed even though the majority were using the “stated” and “legal” pathways to fight against injustice. Blacks and Whites must ask why justice for the Black man in America is such an evil word and why it is so hard to achieve? Much can be attributed to Willie Lynch.
We can trace so many of the self-destructive behaviors of Black people that are tied directly to the fact that Black culture, history, and knowledge of who we are have been completely removed. We can’t march enough given the conditions facing Black people in America.
In fact, if I had one criticism of the March, it should be everyday (that’s an expectation that is not achievable – I’m just trying to make my point that we can’t have enough marches on Washington).
The Black community needs to never let themselves or America forget what it has done and continues to do to Black people.
Even if every institution never practices another day of discrimination against Black people, we still should never let a day go by that we forget what America forget did to our ancestors. Many Jews have a slogan that they have incorporated into everything (i.e. culture, language, religion, business, etc.) that has given them a competitive advantage “never forget and never again” with regards to the Jewish Holocaust.
Shouldn’t Blacks have the same strategy, especially given that the Black holocaust was exponentially greater?
The March was beginning of the movement and not the finality of the movement.
The March was a “call” to personal responsibility which is the first step with the real work to take place when the men returned home – someone needed to tell our Black men that they had to have a personal responsibility for the conditions of our Black families and our Black communities.
Yes, the Black man has been done an unbelievable wrong, but at the end of the day, the Black men must take ownership for finding and implementing solutions.
The call for personal responsibility was a powerful and profound one but it was just the beginning. The real work for transformation can never be achieved without hard work. Frederick Douglass stated that “power will never concede without a demand or a fight, it never has and never will.”
Yes, there are those who argue that unless the March was able to address and solve many of the problems facing the Black community, it wasn’t a success.
In my humble opinion, we can’t even begin to address the issues facing the Black man in America without addressing the biggest lie portrayed by America “that America isn’t racist and America didn’t hurt and damage the Black man.”
We’re faced with the ultimate “catch 22” because if we’re going to have a chance at addressing our issues, we will need the highest level of organization and we would have to self-invest at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars – something that we’ve been unable to raise, let alone manage.
It can be done because the March was a much needed win for the Black community, which is the foundation for building the organization and raising the resources needed – both will require that Blacks break the spell of the Willie Lynch syndrome.
No matter what side of the fence you sat on, the Million Man March was a huge success especially for the personal responsibility that it called for and inspired. Long Live the Spirit of the Million Man March!
Brother and sisters – it’s all on us and no one is going give us anything.
Doesn’t our history in this country confirm this? Everything, even the most basic of rights, have been a prolonged and massive fight and struggle.
If we want change, if we want freedom, if we want justice, if we want equality, if we want full participation in the American dream, we must be willing to fight for it – no one is going to lay over and feel sorry for us and even do the right thing by us (it just ain’t gonna happen).
The question for us is what does the “fight” look like today?
It must first start with ourselves – for it is impossible to demand anything from others when we are unwilling or unable to do for ourselves.
While I don’t have all of the answers, I can tell you one ingredient that must be obvious and purposeful in describing and answering what the “fight” looks like – Black people must work together (therein lies the problem). I’m not talking about a day; I’m talking about forever.
Unless one is an avowed traitor to Black people, there is nothing, I MEAN NOTHING that justifies Black people being as divided as we are today. As long as Black people, specifically Black leaders are divided, we will never have a shot at amassing whatever power we might have and like the March, it showed us what the power of Black unity looked like – it looked very powerful to me.
I believe that those who criticize the March have louder voices and more access to media because the enemies of the Black man wants this message to cause doubt in the minds of Black people- because doubt keeps Black people from coming together (doubt is the traitor of the mind).
We must grow better antennas to detect the tricks of divide and conquer.
We must always reserve a certain amount of doubt about anything that is said negative about Black people, specifically Black leaders – even when it’s coming from Black people.
Blacks are already vulnerable to negative descriptions and overall negativity about themselves – we’ve had nearly 500 years of depictions as being less than human and for too many of us we have come to believe this because it’s buried deep within our psyche – Blacks must be able to withstand the attacks from our enemy.
I use the term enemy because we’re in a war. Oh, did I forget to mention that the Black man in America is in a war? What would you suggest I call it?
Well guess what, it’s true, we are in a war of all wars; a war for survival, a war against an American infrastructure that structurally discriminates against Blacks; a war against public opinion that disqualifies America’s debt owed to the Black community for nearly 400 years of absolute and criminal injustices; a war against massive ignorance that envelopes both White and Black about the greatness and humility of Black people; a war against White supremacy; a war against Black inferiority that cripples our children before they every become adults;’ and a war against the Willie Lynch syndrome.
Yes, there is a need for a national movement but the foundation work must be done at the local level FIRST and be led by Black men who were impacted by the March to take personal responsibility.
I could never see the March being a failure – if anything was a failure, too many Black men didn’t take charge when the returned home (life got in the way).
So instead of criticizing, what we should be looking at is what we could do differently if given the opportunity – today, we have that opportunity but we will need to begin to address the “Unmaking of a Slave.”