Thousands pour into National Mall for Millions More Movement
WASHINGTON -- Shane Barge watched the Million Man March on television from a hospital bed, under a doctor's care for alcoholism and feeling the burden of not being a father to his two children.
"It showed me how much of a detriment I was to our race and what I was doing to my family," Barge, 45, of Richmond, Va., said Saturday as he and thousands of others gathered at the National Mall for the 10th anniversary commemoration event, the Millions More Movement.
In 1995, the Million Man March and its message urging black men to take responsibility for improving their families and communities spurred Barge to give up drinking and renew his bonds with his children. "I was grateful to them for putting that together and letting me see what I was," he said.
Women, whites and other minorities had not been invited back then, but men and women of all ethnicities were welcome to the new gathering, which intends to build on those principles and push people to act for change locally and nationally.
"Anytime we as a people can come together it's a beautiful thing," said rapper Ryk-A-Shay, 24, who joined relatives from North Carolina for the drive to Washington.
After the event, some experts will be invited to craft public policy guidelines and collaborate on a book tentatively titled "The Black Agenda," which will serve as a "road map for black Americans to address the problems in their communities," said Linda Boyd, a march spokeswoman.
"We did the march in 1995 and it was wonderful, but we see that our people are still in the same position we were in 10 years ago -- and in some cases worse off," Boyd said. "So while a march is important, we'd like to see a movement."
Dozens of prominent speakers, most of them black, from across the political, religious and social spectrum were attending the daylong Millions More Movement, organized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. He wants the black elite to devote their talents to building a movement to work for greater change.
"We have been taught how to serve others, but we have never been trained how to serve one another," Farrakhan, who also put together the original march, said Friday. "I'm hoping that this Millions More Movement will make the learned of us a servant of the unlearned."
Speakers also were paying tribute to victims of the hurricanes that devastated parts of the Gulf Coast, and some survivors were giving remarks. Farrakhan wants to use the attention to remind Americans about the racial and economic disparities highlighted by Hurricane Katrina.
After some New Orleans neighborhoods, among the poorest in the city, were destroyed in massive post-hurricane floods, Farrakhan speculated that protective levees may have been bombed to destroy black areas. He has repeatedly called for investigations to sort out rumors swirling around the issue.
When asked Thursday on the C-SPAN program "Washington Today" about studies showing the levees had failed because of poor construction and design, he said: "What this shows is neglect on the part of the federal government because those levees were weak. ... Something is wrong with this picture, and the American people are awakening."
Despite anti-gay statements by Farrakhan and other march organizers, the leader of a gay civil rights group was added to the program Wednesday.
Officials with the National Black Justice Coalition, a gay civil rights group, said Farrakhan invited their president, Keith Boykin, to speak -- a move that came after months of appeals for the inclusion of an openly gay person.
Boykin was planning to talk about hostility toward homosexuals in the black community, said Ray Daniels, communications director for the group. "It's a groundbreaking statement and very forward thinking," Daniels said of the invitation. "It's the sort of thinking that will help heal our community."