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Some women would like to join Possible gender bias is subject of discussion


"It's not a Woman Man March, it's a Million Man March," says Patricia C. Ferguson of Baltimore County. She doesn't mind staying away from tomorrow's march.

But Vera E. Johnson of metropolitan Washington wants to know, "Why can't we be part of it?"

Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan has requested that black women not attend the march, being called a charter "Holy Day of Atonement and Reconciliation" for black men.

Many women in the area accept the exclusion; a few consider it unfair and discriminatory.

Black women and men alike have been asked to stay home from work and refrain from shopping to show the economic impact that blacks have.

Women are asked to stay away, even though many have been taking calls at the march's headquarters, arranging transportation and helping to plan the event.

"We are asking the black woman, particularly our mothers, to be with our children teaching them the value of home, self-esteem, family and unity; and to work with us to ensure the success of the March and our mission to improve the quality of our life for our people," states Mr. Farrakhan in "The Vision for the Million Man March," part of a 17-page "Women's Support Packet."

Many women's groups are behind the march.

The packet includes a list of endorsements from 54 national black organizations, including the National Council of Negro Women, the National Political Congress of Black Women and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority.

Around the area, women weighed in on the march.

Mrs. Furguson, president of the Baltimore County branch of the NAACP, said, "I don't feel that it's total exclusion."

The national organization is not supporting the march, but she said the Baltimore County branch has endorsed it -- and so has she.

"It's a man's issue. It's not to divide the women from the men," she said, adding that behind-the-scenes roles are important.

Wanda Valentine has such a role.

An operational manager at M. R. Hopkins Transportation, she said her 40-person Baltimore company was contracted by

TC organizers to shuttle march-goers from Baltimore to MARC train stations.

She works with her mother, Maxine Hopkins, who owns the company. Ms. Hopkins said, "I think it's a positive effort to get men [together]. I just think it's a good thing to do."

Besides, some say, black women have had opportunities to coalesce, and now men should do the same.

"There doesn't seem to be enough self-reflection among black men, and I'm glad they're starting their dialogue among themselves," said Jenelle Walthour, an editor with the Smithsonian Institution Press.

Adrienne Jones, director of the Baltimore County Office of Fair Practices and Community Affairs, said she favors anything to bring black men together: "This is a day they are trying to highlight the men, and I don't have a problem with that."

At first, however, Ella White Campbell did.

"Initially, I was upset," said the community activist in the Liberty Road corridor. "I felt the black family needs more cohesiveness.

"When I heard of the reason -- to have black men emerge as leaders of the family -- I felt better. The philosophy was a subtle attempt to have black men come forth and stand up for their families, more or less emerge as leaders."

But, Dr. White added: "In a sense, it's still exclusionary." She would prefer that organizers invite heads of households, to take away the gender bias.

Vera E. Johnson, the associate director of Sasha Bruce Youthwork, a District agency serving troubled youth, sees inconsistencies in Mr. Farrakhan's message.

The march promotes strengthening the family, she said, yet it takes black men away from their communities, wives and sources of income on a weekday.

"He says, 'Bring the family together'; now you're trying to separate the family," she said. "The thing is, is that you're trying to make the man a stronger force within the family -- why are you telling them to leave [women behind]?"

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