Ten years later, more than 65 percent of our children are still born out of wedlock.
Ten years later, we are still five times more likely to die of homicide.
Ten years later, still fewer than half of us own our homes.
Ten years later, we still marry less, go to jail more, die sooner.
Ten years later, the promises we made that crisp Monday in October lie fallow and unredeemed.
On Sunday, it will be a decade since African-American men descended on the Mall in Washington, 400,000 strong according to the National Park Service. An independent agency retained by ABC Television said a minimum of 837,000 of us were actually there. But in the end, the event is defined not by hard numbers, but by a metaphorical one: one million.
Ten years later, two things strike me about the Million Man March. The first is a sense that we black men and our countrymen seemed to be talking about two different marches. We kept hearing that we were going to Washington to support the notorious Jew-baiter Louis Farrakhan and to attack America for its mistreatment of us. We kept saying we were going to attack our own mistreatment of our women, children and selves. And, that though Farrakhan organized the march, many of us joined it not because of him, but in spite of him. The conversation we wanted to have was bigger and more important than this regrettable man.
The second thing that strikes me is the optimism we felt. We stood in a crowd of us, generation be-bop, generation do-wop and generation hip-hop, gathered to slap backs and shake hands, to hug and laugh and be, shoulder to shoulder and man to man, serenaded by the heartbeats of African drums. On a podium far away, speakers spoke, but they were not the show. The show was us, standing there on what felt like the pivot point of change.
Yet 10 years later, here we are, still damned by numbers because change is not something you talk into existence. Change takes action.
Credit where it is due: Some of us did go back to our communities and work to change them. But too many of us, it seems, just went back.
And yes, I know about cops and courts, about the loan officer at the bank and the hiring man downtown, and I know about the lies too many white people tell themselves, including the one that goes, “liberty and justice for all.” I know about the truths some people won’t, can’t, face because to do so is to cut too close to their most cherished conceits and necessary self-deceptions.
But I also know that much of what is needed to fix our communities requires no white person’s consent:
Seek a career, not a job.
Don’t make children you can’t support.
Understand that support means money.
Understand that support means more than money.
Marry the woman.
Model manhood for your children.
Save some money.
Buy a home.
Build a life.
Easier said than done? Yes, very much so. A guarantee of happily ever after? No such guarantee exists nor ever will.
Yet I persist in believing that for African America, changing the world lies in the embrace of these and other old school dictums. And that revolution can be as simple as having dinner as a family, checking homework and going to church on Sunday.
I thought we understood that as we gathered under that autumnal sun. I thought this was what we meant when we hugged and laughed and made promises to the future.
But 10 years later, the future is here, and it is hard to glimpse even the bare outlines of change.
There used to be a song that said, “Brother’s gonna work it out.” Ten years later, another autumnal sun. And we are waiting on brother, still.