It is bigger than Farrakhan.
If it weren’t, Eteecio D. Bussie would never have signed on for the Million Man March planned for Monday by the Nation of Islam’s controversial, redoubtable chief minister, Louis Farrakhan.
A devout Christian who attends a fundamentalist church four times a week, Bussie, 26, says he initially wanted nothing to do with the Washington march because he was concerned that Farrakhan would use the event to verbally eviscerate whites and Jews and to evangelize marchers about his Islamic sect.
“I guess it was Farrakhan phobia,” says Bussie, a Philadelphia businessman who runs his own computer-services firm and will attend the march with his brother, Emmanuel, 30.
“But my organization was asked to work on the march database and the more I got into it, the more I realized that this was much bigger than him. This is not a religious movement. This is a social movement. And it’s due.”
From politically moderate professionals to Christian pastors, from the unemployed to the under-educated, from hard-line, old-guard civil-rights activists to radicalized intellectuals, African-American men and women have been forced to decide just how much attention the Million Man March is due.
Some may be distressed by Farrakhan’s reputation as a venomous anti-Semite, sexist and homophobe; others may question his alliance with dismissed NAACP executive director Benjamin Chavis, but the march - centerpiece of what Farrakhan is calling “A Day of Atonement” for the sins of black men against their community and their women - has clearly attained a life of its own.
And even those who say they will have no truck with Farrakhan or Chavis, the march’s national director, do not deny that the march, with its focus on economic independence, voter registration and improved family values, is likely to become a defining moment, especially for young African Americans.
“We have never had so many groups, so many black males from different backgrounds marching together,” says Charles L. Blockson, curator of an archive of African-American historical artifacts at Temple University. “Throughout history, there have always been marches, like A. Philip Randolph’s march with the Pullman porters and the 1963 March on Washington. But this is the first time that black men from so many walks of life have come together. It is a chance for us to take responsibility, to be leaders of the family.”
African-American men - who know that they are jailed in disproportionate numbers, absent from their children in disproportionate numbers, dead of disease and drug abuse in disproportionate numbers, murdered by one another in disproportionate numbers - do not see the march as a showcase for Farrakhan, says Blockson, but as a chance to unify, a rare and important opportunity to stand shoulder-to-shoulder against the forces that threaten them.