“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela
Fifty-two years ago on an optimistic summer morning in August, the steps of the Lincoln Memorial transformed into what would, perhaps, become the most reflective day in American history. On those steps stood the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., where he delivered a 17-minute rhetorical idiom that defined excellence and equality – and defied mediocrity and division. Dr. King’s vivid approach inspired the hearts of many and encouraged the strides of the masses. During the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, he shared his principles and vision through his masterpiece speech I Have a Dream.
Thirty-two years later, the expansion of that movement would continue with the development of the Million Man March on October 16, 1995 in Washington, D.C. Trotting, driving, striding, busing, flying, cycling, briskly walking, running, leaping – and by any means necessary – the movement of hundreds of thousands of African American men of all status, sizes, and stunning shades traveled across many miles and all significant to the cause. From South Africa, London, Kingston, Canada, Mississippi – to Washington, D.C. – social activist and liberals alike gathered to make history yet again.
A conscious recollection of the 1963 March on Washington, black men and their families gathered for the Million Man March, which was to be a day of spiritual unification, collaboration, camaraderie, and deliberate objectives – and to assume personal responsibility, rebuild and reconcile relationships, unite against racial and economic ills, and seek communal resolution. Black men [and women] congregated and stretched from the front of the U.S. Capitol steps to the Washington Monument, from the inner sidewalks and corners to the borders of every downtown city street, to be a part of something significant – and extraordinary. A powerful declaration of peace and progress, this modern-day civil rights movement would reaffirm the steps we’d taken, and reinforce the steps we would have yet to go as a nation.
On that chilly early morning in October, I anxiously entered the metro station in Capitol Heights, Maryland, and headed downtown to join the unknown and the familiar; the young and the old; the affluent and the less advantaged. I was graciously overwhelmed by the physical presence of the masses that accompanied me on that train. More so, I was euphoric about the stimulus that was obliging them to this place. Once I arrived, I could feel an unperturbed sensation that lingered throughout the air. Everyone stood coherent and unbarred, and ready to receive change. The influence of cultural beauty swept the streets with hijabs and dashikis, natural coiled hair, and bright effervescent colors filled the picturesque vicinity.
From an estimated 250,000 supporters in attendance in 1963 to an estimated 1.5 million supporters in attendance in 1995, we remember August 28th, 2011, as it marked the 48th Anniversary of the March on Washington – an event that would modify perspectives and shift paradigms. On that day, our leaders, mentors, and relatives alike marched for freedom, integrity, racial equality, and an end to discrimination on all levels. Among the noteworthy speakers was the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., Civil Rights leader and head of the National Rainbow Coalition, who re-emphasized the meaning of our marching and moving forward.
He stated: “Why do we march? Because our babies die earlier. Why do we march? Because we’re less able to get a primary or secondary education. Why do we march? Because the media stereotypes us. Why do we march? Because were trapped with second-class schools and first-class jails.”
A message for the masses to digest – and sustain. In the future when our children’s children come to inquire, “Why do we march”? We can respond with intent: “We march because we should.”
Dr. King candidly stated, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Controversy can often be diffused by merely employing more perception and awareness. Nonviolent methods have been used by African Americans since the 1940’s. I wasn’t there in 1963, shaking things up and helping to make history. I didn’t march with the notorious Mothers of the Struggle. I didn’t meet any of the admirable Civil Rights leaders (then) and activists in those times who endured injustice – and at times even death – while advocating for equality. But I am here, in the power of NOW, attempting to make a deliberate difference in the world of the people with which I may connect.
You don’t have to be a civil rights leader, clergyman, public speaker, or hold a public office to make a difference in the world. The reform begins from wherever you are – and at this moment. In times of challenge and compromise, where will you stand?