Friday, October 12, 2012

"One Million Strong" documents the lives of black people marching

“That’s Rosa Parks,” King, my son, uttered when she walked on the stage.  It happened after a series of speeches from the who’s who among black Americans.  Something was different when she spoke.  My son’s voices cracked to reflect the emotions of the moment.  This was history.
I stood beside my son holding back the tears caused by years of fighting for him to escape the burden I had carried.  “She’s the one who made it possible,” he said as she approached the microphone.  He was right.  We were surrounded by a million men who came to atone for their sins, but it was a woman who made it possible for us to believe.
That moment is what first comes to mind when I think of my experience at the Million Man March. Time stood still in a breath. That breath evoked a vibration from a place deeper than I had ever known.  I exhaled the ache of being a black man.  I allowed myself to trust what I loved more than my own life – my son.
That was October 16, 1995.  On that day, I began to see the genius in my son.  So much had been hidden due to my fear.  That day changed my life.  There are countless pictures taken in my mind from that day.  There’s the rising of the sun that met us as we marched on the lawn to take our place.  There’s the memory of the all male choir singing “It’s time to make a change,” to begin the service of atonement.
Pictures - too many to count - all in my mind. There’s the mental picture of the woman standing next to me with her son.  “They told us not to come,” she said.  “I had to come because of my son.  He had no man to bring him.” 
We all understood.  We gathered around him like a village of men empowered to father him through life.  All of us wished we could stand with him after the day ended.  My son stood by his side like a village uncle.
Pictures – too many to count – all in my mind.  In the crowd was a young female student from Wake Forest University.  It was the beginning of a ten year journey of documenting through photography a series of political/cultural gatherings of black people. The Million Man March was followed by the World Day of Atonement in New York City (1996), The Million Woman March in Philadelphia (1997), The Million Youth March in Harlem (1998), The Million Youth Movement in Atlanta (1998), The Million Family March in Washington, DC (2005) and the Million More Movement March in Washington, DC (2005).
Katina Parker was at each of them, taking pictures.  The pictures of these movements are on display at the Hayti Heritage Center. One Million Strong is a traveling photo exhibit that captures the emotions of those who braved the way to march.  There’s a picture of a baby with a tear drop budding from the eye socket.  There are pictures of senior citizens standing in pride.  The past and the future held in a delicate balance exposing the road traveled and the way paved for those too young to understand.
“I was so engrossed in taking pictures that I didn’t realize what was happening around me,” Parker said when asked about the potential violence at the Million Youth March in Harlem. There’s a picture of police snipers positioned on top of a building waiting for orders to open fire.
They say a picture is more than a thousand words.  The walls at the Hayti Heritage Center are screaming to be heard.  Each picture has a different message.  They range from pride to rage.  Millions of people marched to unleash years of hostility.
What have we learned over the years?
On Tuesday, October 16, a panel called Long Live the Spirit: Reflections on the 17-Year Anniversary of the Million Man March s convenes. I will moderate the panel.  Panelist are Dr. Mark Anthony Neal, Professor of Black Popular Culture in the Department of African and African American Studies at Duke University, Omisade Burney-Scott, Principal and Founder of Ananse Consulting, Amon Muhammad, minister with the Nation of Islam and Katina Parker.
Other events will follow on alternating Tuesdays.  A pre-election town hall meeting takes place on October 30, a post-election strategy session will be held on November 13 and Catch the Fire: A Night of Conscious Words and Music, concludes the series on November 27.
For those who were there, it’s a time to rekindle memories.  For those who watched it on television, it’s a chance to learn more about what happened that day.  For those who missed it, it’s a chance to explore a moment in history. 
Those pictures have so much to say.  Come and listen.

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