Million Man March anniversary raises teen consciousness

BySamaria Bailey

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Hundreds of Black youths from across the city journeyed to Washington, D.C., for the Justice or Else! Million Man March on Oct. 10. Two weeks later, many say the experience has left an imprint on their thinking about life and how they see themselves in America.

They were not born when the first Million Man March took place in 1995, but they said the effects of the recent one, nevertheless, were powerful — and unlike any experience they have ever had.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Clarence Shippen, a 17-year-old senior at KIPP Charter School — DuBois Collegiate Academy. “I got on a bus with my father to D.C. and when we got there, it was a huge revelation that happened. It was huge; you could barely walk down the street.”

Aside from the number of people, Shippen noted that it was equally amazing to be in the midst of a mass of Black people in one space for a collective purpose.

“I’ve never been around that many Black people. But it was kind of relieving and empowering. It really did make you feel like Black power is a thing,” he said. “You felt like no one is going to mess with you here or decide to go crazy. You felt big, not belittled.”

Shippen was one of about 200 students from local charter schools, all boys, who traveled to the march. The group included Kipp — Dubois Collegiate Academy, Mastery Charter School — Shoemaker Campus, Boys Latin Charter School and Mastery Charter School — Simon Gratz.

“We want our young people to have the desire to have a positive impact and see positive Black men,” said Aaron Bass, DuBois Collegiate Academy founding principal, and the trip organizer. “We see chaos 24 hours on the news. This was a counter to the chaos. [And] it was a great way to see what is your role now?”

Isaiah Wroten, 17, an 11th grader at Dubois, remembered the type of people he encountered, saying he observed some diversity, with some Asians and Hispanics present. He videotaped the experience for a documentary that he was producing about the march.

“We interviewed a lot of people,” he said. “One group of people believed their Blackness was a religion. One group of Masons was talking to an atheist about God. And we talked to a leader from the Fruit of Islam. [But] the march wasn’t just about Black people. You could be Spanish, Arab, or Haitian and this still impacts you. This is your community. This is how you live.”

Mohamed Haidara, 14, a freshman at the Shoemaker Campus, shared a similar perspective.

“When I attended the Million Man March, I learned how Blacks are mistreated by the white supremacist system. But the government is not only treating Blacks unfair,” he said. “There are drone strikes on innocent people in Pakistan too.”

Haidara said Farrakhan’s emphasis on the Black family and accountability; and other speakers’ comments on Black identity also moved him.

“He said educate yourself and how we shouldn’t treat women unfairly because they are the greatest gift to men from God. [And] one of the speakers said before white people brought us over here, we had a different language, different ways of eating; and how white culture has changed us in so many ways.”

For other youth, existing in America as a Black male has also caused some deeper identity burdens.

“I feel like we have a big target on our back that we can’t get rid of,” said Demetrius Huggins, an 11th grader at Imhotep Institute Charter High School.

Huggins, 16, traveled to the march with six other classmates from Imhotep. Math and history teacher Timothy Dean said they were invited by a Justice or Else! local organizing committee that had extra seats on its bus.

Hassan Speakman, 19, a senior at Imhotep, said he feels “closed in.”

“It’s a few tunnels you can choose: sports, rap, sell drugs or jail,” Speakman said. “You’ve got to pick one of these. Everything else is still considered out of the ordinary if you’re Black and from the ‘hood.”

The march, however, did spark some fresh thoughts in the youths’ mind on how they saw themselves and each other.

Kamal King, 14, a freshman at Imhotep, said: “Farrakhan was trying to get all Black people to unite, wake up and make them be prepared for the future.”

Speakman said he learned a lesson in unity.

“People were there with dashikis and you could tell they were African-centered and there were some people that looked like they were from the ‘hood. But nobody discriminated against anybody. [And] it made me feel happy,” he said. “The big lesson I learned overall is that you can’t judge people just by looking at them.”

Ahmad Abdullah-Tucker, 14, a freshman at Shoemaker, has realized more of his own power.

“We got big dreams and hopes,” he said. “We can change the future.”