About a dozen Baltimore activists kicked off the local planning yesterday for the 10th-anniversary celebration of the Million Man March - an event they promised would go beyond speeches and mobilize African-Americans to create wealth, and address health, education and social problems.
With a press conference at Sojourner Douglass College in the morning and a rally at night, organizers urged people to join the gathering planned for mid-October on The Mall in Washington.
This year's event is called the Millions More Movement and would commemorate the Oct. 15, 1995, Million Man March, spearheaded by Louis Farrakhan.
Organizers pledge that the event will go beyond the all-male, Nation of Islam-led march of a decade ago. They're calling for women and children, and people of all faiths, ethnic backgrounds and leadership factions to join in the "movement for freedom."
"In this room, we have some of the brightest and most competent minds that Baltimore has to offer," said Carlos L. Muhammad, a Nation of Islam minister representing Farrakhan.
"Each of us has gradually and painfully come to the conclusion that while each leader and organization has done the best it could working on its agenda and programs, the masses are slipping further behind," he said. "It is clear that no one organization or leader can solve the many problems we face alone - we need each other desperately."
The kickoff brought together such Baltimore activists as former City Councilman Kwame Osayaba Abayomi, Morgan State University professor Raymond Winbush and Benjamin F. Muhammad, former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
They used recent local news - the acquittal of a white suspect in the death of black teenager Noah Jamahl Jones and the dropping of charges against three others, and the beating death of an inmate in Baltimore's Central Booking and Intake Center - as evidence of the need for more black activism.
And in the cadence of sermons, they complained of violence and drugs in black communities, while the audience punctuated pauses with "amens" and applause.
"We cannot afford not to be involved this time with so many problems affecting our communities," said the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, executive director of the commemoration and pastor at Washington's Union Temple Baptist Church.
Last month, Farrakhan announced the anniversary march, set for Oct. 14-16, in a press conference with the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse L. Jackson.
They billed it as a more-inclusive event than the original and promoted the support of Democrats Floyd H. Flake, a former U.S. representative, and Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington's delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives; and civil rights leaders Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP, and Dorothy Height of the National Council of Negro Women.
Nevertheless, the Anti-Defamation League has called for black leaders to reconsider their support for Farrakhan and co-organizer Malik Zulu Shabazz, chairman of the New Black Panther Party, who they said made anti-Semitic remarks.
And while the Million Man March spurred offshoots such as the Million Woman March and Million Youth March, other critics have complained that leaders haven't capitalized on the initial excitement the rallies generated.
Still, organizers were optimistic yesterday.
Baptist ministers, Nation of Islam representatives and NAACP members quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Marcus Garvey urging black people to shape their future.
Some said they would go to Washington to preach "black power" and demand reparations for slavery, while others expressed hope that the march would help young people emerge as leaders.
"We have a lot of older people who are great freedom fighters, but sometime we need to get them to recognize that it's OK to pass the torch," said Farajii Muhammad, 26, who founded the New Light Leadership Coalition in Towson and is organizing youth attendance at the march.
"We're going to flood the city with fliers," he said. "We'll be in the schools in September and make sure everyone is involved."