Million Man March Echoes: Politics, Self-Reliance, Prayer
A MONTH after rallying in Washington, many of the hundreds of thousands of black men who joined the Million Man March are striding back into their neighborhoods and making good on pledges to shoulder greater responsibility at home.
From joining citizens' patrols on ''devil's night'' in Detroit, to mentoring black youths in Philadelphia, to registering friends to vote in Atlanta, the men are invigorating grass-roots efforts to make their neighborhoods strong, safe, and sound.
Take the scene in a South Side church in Chicago, for instance. Nearly 100 marchers took their campaign for black empowerment one step further, endorsing a local candidate for Congress. Amid cheers and applause, the roomful of mostly middle-aged black men questioned candidates, including Jesse Jackson Jr., and voted in what organizer Rev. Al Demus called a ''litmus test'' of the march's power of political mobilization.
''I hope the candidates understand there is now a Million Man March society that is very concerned about how they will represent black people,'' said Carl McDonald, a construction manager attending the forum at Park Manor Christian Church.
Hopeful of building on this street-level momentum, an estimated 300 march leaders from around the country are scheduled to gather in the capital today to begin hammering out a national post-march agenda.
The three-day National African-American Leadership Summit is to bring together the two lead organizers of the march - summit convener Benjamin Chavis Jr. and Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam - as well as Joseph Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Urban League head Hugh Price, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and NAACP officials.
The summit, to be held at Howard University, will unveil an economic development fund to nurture black-owned businesses and a national health plan for African Americans, the Rev. Mr. Chavis says.
Participants will also discuss a black political agenda, plans for a black political convention in 1996, and the progress of an ongoing drive to register an estimated 8 million eligible black voters.
Chavis denied, however, that the summit would consider founding an independent black political party.
''The agenda is not about party politics, but how to empower the black community politically, economically, and spiritually,'' Chavis said. ''We have a tremendous network of activism, now it is a question of channeling that activism.''
Regardless of the outcome of the Nov. 16-18 summit, local organizers say the real post-march agenda will be determined in the churches, schools, and streets of diverse black communities across the country.
''People are going on their own inspiration,'' says Tyrone Brooks, an Atlanta march organizer and Georgia state representative. ''We don't need to be locked into any group. We can develop our own local road maps.''
''Ours is essentially a local effort based on self-reliance,'' agrees Philadelphia city manager and march organizer Joe Certaine. ''It is very simple, not cluttered by a national agenda.''
Indeed, from city to city, the 300-odd local organizing committees that sprung up to mobilize people for the march - themselves loose coalitions of other grass-roots groups - are taking distinct approaches to problems in their communities.
In Detroit, which sent from 50,000 to 75,000 men to Washington, marchers became self-appointed ''angels'' guarding the city on the Halloween eve ''devil's night.'' Thousands of men and their sons, many wearing Million Man March hats and sweatshirts, patrolled neighborhoods in response to Mayor Dennis Archer's appeal to halt the customary arson spree. Only 41 fires were reported, typical of an average day and far less than the 182 of last year.
''We are emphasizing spiritual reawakening as a springboard for community involvement,'' says the Rev. Wendell Anthony, a Detroit march organizer and minister of the Fellowship Chapel United Church of Christ. Detroit has seen a rise in church attendance by black men since the march, Mr. Anthony says. Last Sunday alone, 20 black men joined his congregation.
In Georgia, marchers are accelerating a drive to sign up the state's estimated 600,000 unregistered voting-age blacks.
Some 2,000 marchers gathered in Augusta last week and distributed hundreds of registration forms. They promised to return for a bigger rally on Dec. 2.
''Once we get more elected officials, we can have a greater say. That's critical,'' says Mr. Brooks, noting that although Georgia's population is 30 percent African-American, only 6 percent of elected officials are black.
In Philadelphia, activism has focused on safety in schools and neighborhoods. At a Nov. 4 meeting at the Tindley Temple United Methodist Church, some 4,000 marchers signed up for antidrug and antigraffiti programs, to serve as block captains, and to help create safe corridors around city schools.
Seeking a multitude of small victories, march organizers in several cities say their priority is to guide volunteers into existing programs - not to reinvent the wheel with new ones.
They say membership in local branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Urban League, and other rights groups has grown since the march.
The emerging activism supports the belief of many that the march's impact would transcend a single group or person, including the Nation of Islam and its controversial leader, Minister Farrakhan.
''No one person can be in charge of a million men,'' says Anthony.
''The march ignited a flame of work and service, and it is now up to the men who attended to keep it burning.''