“Where the fuck is the bus???”
I was downtown Brooklyn on the corner of Jay and Willoughby Streets, in front of the MTA building, with half a dozen friends and about 1000 other black men.
Waiting for some buses.
The sky had turned the color it turns before the sun begins its assent. The buses were a good 3 hours late. If they’d come at that moment, we wouldn’t arrive in Washington DC till damn near noon with traffic.
The rumors were circulating.
“I heard Guiliani shut shit down. Racist motherfucker!”
“See, this is a governmental conspiracy. Dem motherfuckers is scared to have a million Brothers in front of the White House!”
Everyone was irate. We were all there for a unifying purpose, and this was the last thing America wanted to see. Black men with a unifying purpose…especially behind (or in this case before) a man like Farrakhan!
I was the only one with a camera so I was the photographer )-:
As the sun rose our hopes of being in DC for this event of events plummeted. We talked about hopping an Amtrak or a Greyhound Bus, but we knew that those were sold out. These buses had been provided by promoters of the event. We would never learn why they never showed up, nor how many men like the 1000 of us didn’t make it to the March.
800,000 or so did, though.
The picture above was taken at the onset of our journey, around 2am. All happy and bursting with black pride. Spike Lee would make an excellent film about a bus ride to the Million Man March, called, “Get on the bus!”
I think Spike captured the emotions we had at that moment…
By 6am we were headed our own separate ways, dejected and depressed. I was damn near in tears.
I wasn’t about to go to work. I’d taken the day off. So, I went home to a blunt, a big box of Honeycombs, a sofa and C-Span: the closest I would come to being there.
Initially, the thing I found most impressive was the turnout:
I realized I hadn’t truly believed it was possible. That I half-believed that you couldn’t get (nearly) a million black men to agree on anything accept that Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player ever (and some would even argue that.) I believed that that many black men in one area would be chaos, mayhem, would be the making of an international embarrassment of epic proportions. I mean, I grew up in a community where gun shots marked the end of a block party, and the next day you could follow the blood trail all the way to Brooklyn Jewish Hospital.
And, on top of that, I was afraid if it did happen, if a million black men did congregate in a small area- even one as secured as the area in the midst of America’s pinnacle of power- something terrible would go down. It’d be a perfect time for some radical homegrown Timothy McVeigh-type terrorist to pull something genocidal; an excellent moment for America to rid itself of the “Negro “Problem (at least a good portion of it) once and for all. Really irrational panic I was stricken with. And indeed there were rumors of such things making their way around the media and the grapevine, in the barber shops and on the ball courts, of something horrible being planned.
Of course, at the time I’d heard these rumors I’d written them off as scare tactics to keep the numbers low and de-frock Farrakhan as a blowhard with the audacity to aspire to organize a non-exclusively Nation of Islam event and muster numbers never before seen in American history.
I viewed this event on TV half-expecting this terrible thing to happen, watching all these courageous black and beautiful souls joined in fellowship on the Great Mall, and I felt ashamed of my fear.
It was that chronic fucking with me.
I laid there on my safe sofa watching as speaker after speaker offered prayers and waxed on and on about how we’d proved them wrong and showed the world that we were men, goddammit, that could come together peacefully for a common cause. Like this was the most amazing feat.
Then, finally, Farrakhan spoke.
Again, maybe it was the blunt.
I have a tendency to dissect shit when under the influence.
Farrakhan is a master at giving a speech…at least I thought so until Obama came along and took it to another level. But, at that time, I, like most black people, were accustomed to being spoken to, lectured to, piously often, by leadership with a religious fervor. Politicians were the exception、but even some of them had that rising and falling lilt to their voices, with a punching and kicking, imploring and pleading rhetorical style.
But, ever since my youth, I’ve been kind of anti-religion and religious rhetoric.
Of course I could listen to and savor every word spoken by King and Malcolm. I loved Malcolm’s fiery brilliance and revolutionary intelligence, his power derived as much from his oratory skills as his capacity to listen to and instantly comprehend what is and isn’t being said, but I could do without the shout outs to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad inserted after every few sentences, ad nauseum (…as the Honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches us…), and I loved King’s singsong evocations, his inspired amalgamation of the principles set forth in the Bible and the agenda of the Civil Rights movement he spearheaded, but he hemorrhaged homages to the Good Lord Almighty.
But, by the time I was a teen, I’d grown weary of religion. Weary and wary.
The 5% (and I should point out that the 5% do not consider themselves a religious group, just a culture- a way of life) had impressed upon me that to gain knowledge, speak wisely and intelligently, and understand all things in existence did not require religious fervor. Furthermore, they’d instructed us that these people, utilizing religion to further their agendas, were usually part of the 10%, the rich slave makers of the poor, shepherds looking to build, fleece, use and/or abuse their flock. And though I didn’t agree with all the doctrines the 5% touted, this one ring true, especially in the black community.
Malcolm learned the hard way that, to an extent, this was true even of the honorable Elijah Muhammad…which was his impetus for breaking with the NOI.
But, Minister Farrakhan…
I’m not sure exactly why I let him in, but I did.
Maybe at the time I first heard him speak I was angry and rebellious and he spoke to these feelings in a way that the duplicitous leadership of the time could not. He appeased me. He didn’t seem to be trying to play with my mind, the most direct route to my pockets. A strange criteria to hold, I know, but I was really leery of hustlers of culture. This type of chicanery is ever-present, its utilizers fixtures in the community.
Farrakhan’s teachings were in line with many of the things I’d learned not only in my childhood school, but also in the 5%. That black self-reliance was key, that black self-empowerment was essential, that a lack of black self-determination was detrimental. That black education, feeding black minds, and black spirituality feeding black souls, would spawn a generation of black children better equipped mentally and spiritually to take on the challenges of a world dominated by a Caucasian PR machine that runs day and night fueled by the minds and souls of the weak.
Yeah, I let him in. Not all the way in, but enough.
I mean, I never aspired to become a black Muslim. It was tempting, though. You saw them everywhere, all the time. And they always looked like the very picture of health and refinement. Sharply dressed, glowing with vitality, well-mannered, considerate, tough, survivors! Like revolutionary gentlemen soldiers.
And these weren’t men picked off the vine, indoctrinated into the ways of the Nation of Islam from birth. Uh-uh. These would be the crackheads you used to see lurching out of alleys, that criminal minded bastard you used to cross the street to avoid when you saw him coming cuz he might snatch your fucking gold chain on a humble just for shits and giggles and that drug dealer who used to drive around your block in a spanking-ass Benz who’d vanished for a minute (MIA, usually meaning dead or in jail) and resurfaced…now he’s in a sharp suit with a bow tie, smiling the smile of the redeemed and resurrected, of the formerly lost but now found! You’d never seen these motherfuckers smile before! But there they’d be, selling bean pies or Final Call newspapers, in the “pink” of health, approaching and proselytizing you with the kind of familiarity only someone who came from where you are and even darker depths could. Fearlessly, righteously, speaking to you with unquestionable authority “Been there, done that, been that, said that, smoked that, drunk that, fucked that…How you like me now?”
How can you not at least have a minimal amount of respect for a man and an organization that can inspire downtrodden men (and women) of ill-repute to transform themselves so completely and beautifully?
Maybe it was because people I respected insisted upon it…like Chuck D of Public Enemy “…a follower of Farrakhan. Don’t tell me that you understand until you hear the man!”
Maybe it was combination of all that.
As I lay there on my sofa, listening to Farrakhan hold forth, I remembered the words of my literary idol and one of the greatest writers in American History, James Baldwin, as he wrote about his impressions upon meeting Elijah Muhammad for the first time.
And, I knew, my days under the good Minister’s sway were numbered.
…to be continued