WASHINGTON, D.C. – For the women of color who attended the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, a collective challenge awaits: helping to ease the violence that plagues Black and brown communities across the nation.
From the podium on the National Mall last weekend, Nation of Islam Leader Louis Farrakhan called for 10,000 black men and women to return to their communities and help stop the escalating violence among Black men.
“I want 10,000 names that we can train ’cause we got to stand between the guns,” Farrakhan told the crowd, speaking about the killing of unarmed Black people by police and the mounting gun-related deaths by Black youth.
Thousands of women of all racial backgrounds, religions and cultures lined the National Mall at last weekend’s rally that was labeled “Justice or Else.” There were Christian women; Muslim women; Palestinian women; Latino woman; Native American women and even white women.
Many young Black women carried signs and wore t-shirts bearing the name of Sandra Bland, who died in police custody in Waller County, Texas earlier this year. Bland died under suspicious circumstances and three days after her arrest authorities ruled she died after “self-inflicted asphyxiation.”
“I have a son — and from Sandra Bland to Trayvon Martin — I don’t want to have to teach my son that he has to fear the people that are supposed to protect him,” said Ebony Peterson, a Prairie View A&M University student, who traveled to Washington, D.C. from Texas.
“We need justice; the system is unjust,” she said. “We’re tired; it’s time to do something. We have to fix our own community and we can’t depend on anybody else to fix it. We have to fix it ourselves.”
Twenty years ago, the Million Man March was planned for a day of atonement and Minister Farrakhan urged women not to attend, saying it was a day solely for Black men to affirm their commitment to family and community.
But last weekend’s mass gathering on the National Mall was noticeably different: Women were not only welcomed, but they were clearly at the forefront of the modern movement called “Justice or Else” — and from beginning to end, women made their presence known.
“If you look at the history of liberation struggles, Black women have always been a part of the movement and have always been leading the movement,” said Jalisa Goodwin, a student at Howard University, who was holding a sign that read: “Black is Still Beautiful.”
“As a sister I say if I want to be loved and I want to be supported then I have to love and support,” she said. “The intersection of being Black and being a woman is where we meet and when we meet we advocate for each other.”
The “Justice or Else” movement also appeared to draw a much younger crowd than the Million Man March of 1995.
“I feel a huge generational responsibility to be here today,” said Angel Dye, a Howard University student. “I think it’s significant that this is happening when we are in our twenties; at the time the original march we were babies.”
As I walked away from the Million Man March and smiled at a beautiful baby girl, I was struck by one undeniable fact: the mass rally for racial justice was clearly more meaningful –and more extraordinary –because so many committed women of color have joined this evolving movement.