LIKE JESUS, Robert Eades wept. Standing before a crowd Sunday at First Baptist Church in Annapolis, Eades addressed several of those assembled individually and begged their forgiveness.
"I want to apologize to my son for creating the environment he has to live in," Eades said, confessing to his past as "one of the major drug dealers in the city." Tears poured down his face as he begged forgiveness of Maj. Norman Randall of the Annapolis Police Department for "stealing a couple of dollars from you when you lived with my parents" and of the Rev. Leroy Bowman "for every time I smoked reefer on your church steps."
Eades spoke after about 25 men trudged under gloomy skies from Amos Garrett Boulevard along West Street to the church some six blocks away, where about 30 other people joined them to commemorate the much-maligned and much-misunderstood "March of Forgiveness."
This was an unnecessary march, with no focus or purpose, it was said. The black men the march was designed to reach - the ones who commit crimes, mistreat women and neglect their children - wouldn't even bother to show up. This paper editorialized that the march would leave "onlookers wondering what the marchers are saying. That all black men are culpable? That black men are more in need of expiation than others?"
Well, if you're talking about the terrifying rate of homicide among young black men, we certainly are. The cause of that homicide rate, as I've written before, is not lingering white racism - although it's surely still here - but a macho culture among black men that is literally killing us.
Robert Eades, with his tears Sunday night, showed us it was masculine to cry, to confess, to beg forgiveness. He and the other black men assembled with him may have taken us on the first tentative, halting steps that lead us away from that macho culture.
"I'm tired of seeing what's going on in this town," said Larry Griffin. "I'm tired of seeing brothers against each other."
Griffin, founder and president of a community group called WE CARE, confessed to being an ex-thief and drug addict and begged forgiveness from those assembled. He asked more men to take the microphone, giving each one a loving embrace as he did.
Timmy Green apologized to his family for stealing from them when he was a drug addict. Alderman Carl Snowden gave the audience a history lesson with the tale of how 14-year-old Emmett Till was beaten to death in Mississippi 40 years ago for whistling at a white woman.
"Today young black men are being killed from using a white powder called 'white girl,'" Snowden lamented, pointing an accusing finger at African-Americans of his generation for allowing the situation to happen.
"Tonight I want to make an apology," Snowden said, for a generation that "failed to pass the torch."
As I listened to speaker after speaker, the meaning of this particular march became clear to me. Forget about its billing as a preview to Louis Farrakhan's million-man march in the nation's capital Oct. 16 - which may have more to do with Louis Farrakhan's ego than anything else.
Forget the naysayers who said this was a purposeless march, that there are responsible black men out there who have nothing to beg forgiveness for. That may be true, but one of the major tenets of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition (the proper name for it, those obtuse people who insist on shortening it to "Judeo-Christian tradition" notwithstanding) is that we all are in need of forgiveness.
So one reason black men - along with some women - gathered in Annapolis on Sunday was to issue a call for a spiritual reawakening of the African-American community. Another was to show black men as the loving brothers and fathers many of us BTC are, as opposed to the buffoons or gun-toting thugs society at large perceives us to be.
Willie Abdul Khaliq, a 45-year-old Sunni Muslim, joined the march with his daughters - 7-year-old Kenya and 5-year-old Nakiah. They lovingly clutched his hands as they walked along West Street. At the church, Abdul Khaliq stood before the assemblage and told his feelings about fatherhood.
"[It] means more to me than a career, my car or my home," he confessed. Just as this march meant more than black men seeking forgiveness. It meant that we may have finally taken the initiative toward redefining black manhood.
Gregory P. Kane's column appears Wednesdays and Saturdays.