Many Men Are Still Marching

Tonight, two years after the Million Man March, blacks gather again in 100 US cities.

Thousands of families from Los Angeles to New York will pray together, attend rallies, and gather to hear Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan speak today on the second anniversary of the Million Man March.

Hardly the scale of the grandstand event held on the Washington Mall in 1995, this year's smaller and quieter activities are a reflection, organizers say, of the grass-roots work that has become the main legacy of the march.

Women and children will be included in the plans this time. In fact, the focus of the day is youth. And cities will embark on a wide array of programs, from meetings with gang leaders to political demonstrations to reunions of men who attended the Washington march.

To many, the enthusiasm that remains for the goals of that march is an indication of the viability and resonance of its message.

But to others, the local control of this year's events and the broadening of the audience - not to mention the continuing controversy surrounding Mr. Farrakhan - all illustrate the limited potential of the march to become a widespread movement.

"Other movements, at a fairly early stage, developed an organization to back up the ongoing work," says Frank Lechner, a professor at Emory University in Atlanta who studies cultural movements. "Less institutional work has been done for this one," he says. The Million Man March groups "may be locally significant, but so far at least they haven't added up to a sustainable national organization."

Local epicenters

Two years ago, hundreds of thousands of black men flocked to the nation's capital, pledging to live up to their family and church responsibilities and take charge of their lives. In the wake of that massive rally, 350 local groups were formed to raise African-American issues, involve more minority men in charity organizations, and answer a variety of needs in their communities.

Today, though it appears their numbers are dwindling - 100 cities have arranged to be linked up by satellite to Farrakhan's speech tonight. Many of the groups remain active.

Atlanta's local organizing committee, one of the nation's strongest, has registered new voters, hosted political forums, found jobs for inner-city youths, and conducted free health screenings. The 50 or so committee members who meet weekly are planning a summit on solutions to black problems next month and expect to begin tutoring programs in public housing soon.

Other cities have worked to address different problems. In Los Angeles, group members have organized a series of rallies and information meetings to support minority-owned banks and businesses. In Kansas City, Million Man March members are mentoring teens, cleaning up neighborhoods, and volunteering in schools. In Philadelphia, a different kind of outgrowth of the march will be on display Oct. 25, when the first Million Woman March takes place.

There is also evidence that the march has had influence at a national level. Analysis of exit polls shows that black males voted at a 3 to 5 percent higher rate in the 1996 election than in 1992, a phenomenon researchers have attributed to the march.

"I really believe the Million Man March has been uplifting," says Ray McClendon, head of 100 Black Men of Atlanta, a charity group formed 11 years ago to address the issues of black youths. "Anytime that black men can come together to demonstrate brotherhood and charity, it's a very positive thing," he says.

Organizers describe the events marking the second anniversary of the march as the first in a series: this year, the focus is on youth; next year it will be the elderly; the following year, women; and in 2000, Oct. 16 will again be marked by a march on Washington, they say, this time in the name of the family.

Farrakhan is also calling this anniversary a "Day of Absence" and asking supporters to stay home from work or school and not spend money at retail establishments. The idea is for society to feel the absence of black people and their buying power.

But this aspect of the anniversary has had the least amount of support and may not have the intended impact.

Family, community focus

Instead, those who will participate in the event today refer its potential to rejuvenate the black community and boost the work begun after the Million Man March.

"I think this is certainly going to inspire communities and leaders to do more than ever before," says Georgia Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D) of Atlanta, an early and outspoken supporter of the march.

"It's helping us wake up and realize that we can do more for ourselves than we ever thought," he says. "It's helping us reach the highest heights."

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