Thousands gathered on the grounds of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. with faces exuding excitement and curiosity as friends and families headed towards the U.S. Capital to hear the Nation of Islam leader, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, speak at the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March dubbed, this year, as Justice or Else!.
The agenda was to unite all ethnicities and religious backgrounds as one and to take a stance for justice and against inequality in all forms. It was a demonstration where social, political and economical issues were placed on the forefront as a reflection of self and atonement.
The movement provided a platform to activists and all minorities, African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans, and the like, to express their frustrations with the growing number of police brutality cases involving African American men and women, low unemployment rates and the fight to retain entitled land, respectively.
While each ethnic group stated their claim for justice, pictures of individuals slain at the hands of police were raised above the audience as families of the victims conveyed their solidarity, dressed in red and black T-shirts and holding pictures of their loved ones up high as a reminder of the recent injustices that have taken place in their own backyards.
The high profile Florida case of the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and the most recent death of Sandra Bland, 28, are only two of the many cases that have involved African-Americans and the police.
An assertive Sybrina Fulton, mother of Martin, urged the crowd to give no power to police brutality by silencing it, but to speak out against it.
“A lot of times we think that this is about civil rights, but this is about human rights, we are not three-fifths of a human.” Fulton said. “We will not continue to stand by and not say anything anymore, we will speak up and speak out.” Fulton also encouraged the mothers of the slain to hold their heads up high and to remember that their child’s life was not in vain.
Some questioned the “or Else” in the Justice or Else! movement and according to leaders of movements such as Black Lives Matter, Hands Up United and The Gathering for Justice, the “or else” means, no longer accepting what the nation is offering as equality.
Tory Russell, co-founder of Hands Up United and a resident of Ferguson, Mo., shared his thoughts on police brutality and revealed that if the nation does not want to see another 2014 city of Ferguson incident, then we must continue to fight socially and politically to end police brutality.
In the city of Houston alone, we have had our share of unarmed black men and women killed because law enforcement posed them as threats. During the movement one could hear faint chants of Blands’ name throughout the crowd. Bland’s death was ruled a suicide after her body was found in the Waller County jail just three days after being arrested. Bland was pulled over on July 10, 2015, for a minor traffic violation, which lead to an escalated argument and Bland being taken into custody.
Bland’s family stood up against police brutality as well and spoke out stating that what the world has taught them is that we have to control our own narrative.
Eric Mohammed, co-convener of the Houston Local Organizing Committee for Justice or Else!, said the movement gave a voice to those who were disenfranchised which lead to a beautiful picture being painted for justice.
With over 700 registered members of the Houston LOC, Mohammed wants the Houston citizens to stand together and start settling our differences in our own communities first and for the people to go into their neighborhoods and stand in between the guns so that our communities can start to benefit from peace and justice.
As an overwhelmed and joyous Farrakhan approached the podium, he expressed his compassion and gratitude for every generation that participated in the movement. He reflected on what has become of the historic march 20 years later and was especially impressed with the younger generation and their tenacity with driving for a change.
“I feel the cry of our ancestors and the pain of those on whose shoulders we stand,” Farrakhan said. “I feel that our ancestors are happy that a young generation has arisen.”
During his two-and-a-half-hour speech, Farrakhan touched on a number of items in regards to the demand for justice. He reached out to the families of the slain and expressed his concerns with police brutality, but he also challenged the crowd to become a nation that rises up to challenges and realizes that the fight for justice is bigger than us.
“When brothers and sisters arose in Ferguson you didn’t have any money you had a principle, a principle that you were willing to suffer for that you felt was bigger than yourself and your life and the withstanding of pain,” Farrakhan said.
A passionate Farrakhan spoke to the older generation as well, firmly requesting those who may have lived through segregation and the police brutality during the Civil Rights Movement to use that same strength to teach the younger generation about sacrifice and integrity.
“We who are getting older; what good are we if we don’t prepare the young people to carry the torch of liberation to the next step; what good are we that we don’t prepare others to walk in our footsteps.” Minister Farrakhan said.
Besides demanding justice, integrity and selflessness from all, Farrakhan also used the movement to demand individuals to sacrifice their lives for a cause much greater than self.
The minister called for African-Americans to show their purchasing power to the government and withdraw from buying anything during the upcoming Christmas holidays. Instead of dishing out hard earned monies on gifts, Farrakhan suggested using the holidays as a period of fellowship and reconciliation with those who need forgiveness.
The Million Man March held its first movement on Oct. 16, 1995, at the National Mall in Washington D.C. where Farrakhan spoke about the same issues but to a specialized audience of African-American men and boys.
In 1995, The National Park Service estimated about 400,000 in attendance at the initial Million Man March, but march organizers performed their own assessment of the crowd and their numbers for the historic day were estimated to be between one and two million people. However, due to past discrepancies with the Million Man March in 1995, Congress voted to no longer have the National Park Service perform Mall crowd estimates.
This year, it was not about the numbers, it was about conveying the message of justice and peace for all mankind. The Justice or Else! movement had the same agenda as the march in 1995, as it was still a day of atonement and reconciliation but also a day for families to assess themselves and to reach out into the community to build it up instead of tearing it down.
As families and friends departed with hope and fearlessness, Farrakhan reminded the crowd that the real work happens once the march dissipates and to encouraged them to remember that the emotions and anticipation felt during the march were not just a moment, but a movement.