Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, marking the second anniversary of the Million Man March, urged about 300 jail inmates Thursday to leave behind their lives of crime.
Farrakhan, observing what he calls the “Holy Day of Atonement,” said the Cook County inmates should re-establish their connection to God.
Farrakhan had called on people to stay home from work and school Thursday to mark the anniversary of the 1995 march on Washington, and thousands responded by attending rallies across the country to honor the occasion.
After a Muslim prayer service, the inmates whistled and gave Farrakhan a standing ovation.
“The day of atonement means saying ‘I’m sorry for whatever I did to ill-affect others and hurt myself,”’ he said. “‘I want to be the man God intended me to be.”’
In Hartford, Conn., hundreds of people, mostly black men and women, turned out for a ceremony at the state Capitol. Speakers addressed issues ranging from gangs and violence to voter registration and diversity in schools.
“This kind of reinforces what the original march stood for. The emphasis is atonement,” said Darren King of Meriden, Conn., who had made the trip to Washington two years ago. “It’s very important because black men have a notorious history of not being responsible.”
Washington Mayor Marion Barry, who has been fasting since Tuesday as a show of solidarity, granted leave for workers who wanted to participate in 24 hours of fasting, prayer and reconciliation. City officials said they do not know how many city employees missed work.
About 300 people attended a rally in St. Louis, and one was planned in Kansas City, Mo., where Mayor Emanuel Cleaver preferred that students “go to school and get all A’s today” rather than miss classes, said spokeswoman Pam Whiting.
In Baltimore, people gathered in a city park for sunrise prayer services. During the day, a crowd gathered in front of City Hall to read from the principles of the day of atonement.