Maybe ego had more to do with my desire to travel to D.C. for the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March than I’m willing to admit.
To say I wanted to be a part of history sounds cliche, but if I’m being honest, I wanted to have a hand in controlling the narrative. Thousands of men and women drenched in black skin gathering at the nation’s capital simply for the betterment of themselves was an event not to be missed. Yet despite major media outlets conveniently forgetting to cover the historic occasion, I, as a writer would not.
This story would be amazing if I was able to score an interview with one of the organizers. Or if, in the sea of men and women – old and young, urban professional and just urban – I received quotes from them all explaining the overwhelming joy and pride they experienced by simply being there.
But that didn’t happen.
When I arrived in D.C., dusk was beginning to creep in, and so was the voice in my head telling me to quit. The nearly 600-foot-tall Washington Monument made of marble and granite surrounded by a royal blue sky was overtaken with splashes of strawberry, pinks and gold. Night fall was approaching and the ability to get my story was slipping away.
What should’ve been a reflective moment after the historic Million Man March turned into a sinking boulder of defeat. Poor planning on my part placed me at Union Station at 5:30 that evening, where throngs of men and women all wearing T-shirts commemorating the occasion were readying to leave.
As my colleague and I walked towards the National Mall hoping the many souls that descended upon D.C. were still out basking in the blackness of it all, it was to our surprise that punctuality and timeliness were also on the agenda. How Minister Louis Farrakhan and the organizers were able to get the crowd to leave the march on time is beyond me.
I sat on a park bench watching the sun disappear, frantically racking my brain for angles and headlines. It’s a different kind of defeat, almost a taunt, when you don’t get your story. An imaginary clock in your head speeds up, anxiety sets in, and out of nowhere you get pushed into a corner.
Right before I threw my hands in the air, a lively bunch of men, women and children – intergenerational and of different skin tones – gathered on a patch of grass still buzzing from the day’s event. A white man, wearing a green hoodie, baseball cap and carrying a backpack was among the bunch. I’d soon learn said white man is David Sparks, a filmmaker and journalist based out of Dayton, Ohio, who helped break the story of John Felton; the black man who was pulled over for looking at white police officer directly in the eye.
Sparks, contrary to his last name, didn’t seem to have much of a spark. He could’ve been tired from the day’s travel, or lost patience waiting for the bus to get back on the road, but there was a no-bulls**t factor he appeared to be possess. I asked about his thoughts on the march.
“I thought it was awesome. I wish there were more white people out here too. I thought it was fantastic to see people coming together, and not only that but it helped to raise political consciousness. That I thought was super encouraging to see a blossoming of that on a large scale,” Sparks said.
And while Sparks reveled in the fruitfulness of camaraderie, Donald Domineck Jr. didn’t see it that way.
“This year, there was nowhere near the enthusiasm there was in ’95. In ’95, this was a big deal,” Domineck said. “We just couldn’t see the excitement.”
Standing just a hair below six feet tall, Domineck a member of the Dayton chapter of the New Black Panther Party, was clad in his black leather coat, turtleneck and beret. His Midwestern drawl was calm, yet calculated, and his salt-and-pepper beard gave mention to a man who’s been there and done that.
“This year, in comparison to ’95 we had a lot less support,” Domineck continued. “I think social media has a lot to do with it and not just stuff like this, even getting out or exercising to play basketball, but this generation is more caught up on playing with their phone and not just them, because I do it a lot too, that hurt it this year.”
To hear the elder statesmen of the group say the historic 20-year anniversary didn’t quite possess the same fervor, jubilation and pride as its predecessor was disenchanting. I wasn’t expecting attendees to leave and take up arms, but hearing his take on the lack of urgency stung.
Renee Shepherd, a demure, soft-spoken women from the Dayton chapter of the NAACP, found solace in the many young faces participating.
“In ’95, my brother lived in D.C., and it was different because we were talking about ‘is a black man a black man?’ because we had Jim Crow lingering. But now, they’re talking about the younger people and the school-to-prison pipeline. I thought their issues were addressed and I liked it because there are very few organizations that can pull a national group of people together to address an issue.”
Shepherd, whose gray, stringy hair hung over her face as she stood hunched back, praised Farrakhan’s “Justice or Else” belief and his ability to translate that to the masses.
“This is the first time I saw young, old and middle age come together to promote a cause, and that’s the difference,” she said.
By now, night had fallen. The Washington Monument was illuminated by lights and the crisp October nip turned into a noticeable chill. I thanked everyone for their time and made my way to U Street; a whiskey sour and chicken wings were sorely needed.
On the five-hour bus ride home I realized I didn’t achieve my end goal. I wanted to be in the thick of it. I wanted to see the faces, smell the smells and I didn’t. And for that, I failed.
But at least I showed up. Can you say the same, mainstream media?