The view from the Washington Monument toward the Capitol on Oct. 16, 1995, shows participants in the Million Man March in Washington.

John Fountain: Stepping up at home beats another Million Man March

I remember the Million Man March, the joy and pride of standing amid a sea of black men in the nation’s capital early that October morning in 1995. I was there, partly as a reporter for the Washington Post, fully as an African-American man.

My assignment: To walk with marchers from Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast Washington, D.C., to the National Mall.

My heart: To be among the number.

And we marched. I remember…


At 6:20 a.m., outside the church, charter buses hummed in the darkness for the march in the “Holy Day of Atonement” called by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. I remember the boys. And men. Praising. Preparing. Praying.

A simmering pot of emotion: Love. Pride. Passion. Power. Purpose.

I remember the echo of clapping, the excitement throughout the sanctuary, surging like a whistling teapot.

They were all there: The old. And the young. The disheartened. The disenfranchised. Malcolm, Martin, Marcus and Mandela stared out from the church’s mural.

Out of the church, finally we poured. More than 2,000. Marching past forgotten hopes and shattered dreams. Over the 11th Street Bridge. Singing. Chanting: “It’s time to make a change. We are the men who can do it.”

Motorists honked. Ecstatic sisters ran alongside the procession, crying, waving us onward. Upward.

The Capitol loomed in the distance, its bronze Statue of Freedom high atop its white dome, guiding our way.

And we marched. Past New Jersey Avenue. Past tears and cheers and the suffering of years, toward a rippling ocean of black men from all walks who had come from across the nation for this moment.

And yet, 20 years later, it seems that we African Americans today are in an even worse state — at least fully submersed in deep swirling waters of struggle. Poverty. Unemployment. Miseducation. Homicide. Police brutality. Hyper-segregation. Mass incarceration.

And I’m left wondering: What did we do once we got back home?

Twenty years later, amid the call for an anniversary Million Man March titled, “Justice or Else,” (Oct. 10), I wonder whether marching is really the answer. Indeed amid all the marching for Black Lives Matter, or for this or that, I wonder whether symbolism hasn’t become a substitute for solutions. Rhetoric an alternative to real and lasting action. And another stirring moment a replacement for a seismic social movement.

I wonder: What will marching far beyond our own besieged communities really mean, if its purpose, plan and passion never trickle down? If it never brings transformation? If we don’t do the hard work at home?

I am well aware of the historic impact and virtues of public assembly and protest. Except I see my people drowning, and no national plan for rescue.

I have resolved that we must save ourselves. That if we must march, then let us march through the streets of our own neighborhoods, where our sons murder our sons. And let us teach them that it is an abomination to murder-an aberration to denigrate our women.

March as men — to PTA meetings and also into classrooms to read to poor boys and girls to help save them from the schools-to-prison pipeline. March as men-toward brotherly love, self-determination and responsible fatherhood.

I have seen the glory of a million black men, standing unified in the splendor of our nation’s capital. And yet, I imagine that would pale in comparison to just 100 men, walking unified through our own communities across this nation. Or locked arm-in-arm, praying around our schools. Or simply more men committed to making black lives better right where we stand.

My heart: To be among that number.


Follow John Fountain on Twitter: JohnWFountain

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