By Hazel Trice Edney
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Minister Louis Farrakhan’s “Justice or Else” gathering on the Washington Mall Oct. 10 was anticipated by many to be the ultimate call to action for Black people and others who continue to face racial oppression in America.
But, after Saturday’s march, many who attended expressed mixed feelings about whether their expectations were met.
“I was somewhat disappointed in Minister Farrakhan’s presentation,” said Jack Gravely, interim executive director of the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP. He had driven up from Richmond, Va. with his daughter and 11-year-old grandson. Although he thought Farrakhan’s chidings, including his exhortation to African-American men and women to respect each other, were necessary, Gravely said, “I thought he would talk more about economic justice, issues going forward and issuing a stern challenge to the African-American community better than he did…I was a little disappointed in the message.”
Actually, Minister Farrakhan stopped short of giving the total strategy for the economic boycott, the “Or else” aspect of the march. Although he called for the boycott, he never fully drew from the April 3, 1968 speech by Dr. King during which King exhorted preachers in Memphis to “redistribute the pain” being felt by sanitation workers and other poor people in America.
The Minister spoke on a variety of topics from economic boycott to social responsibility to America’s wrongs being judged by God, to the tenets of the Nation of Islam, drawing a variety of responses.
“I have a feeling of happiness in knowing that we’ve started some justice for ourselves,” said Khalif Muhammad, 15, wearing a backward cap labeled, “Justice or Else.”
While most teens appeared reflective, one man became agitated after walking upon three teenagers smoking marijuana behind the porta potties as the march dispersed. “They’re not even thinking about what just went on today!” the man said.
On the other hand, many basked in the peace, positivity and unity of the day.
Officers of the U. S. Capital Police were out in masses, a helicopter circulated overhead, the Fruit of Islam security detail was out in force and Minister Farrakhan complained that he had to stand behind a protective glass-incased podium. But, despite typical teen behavior, there were no notable incidents during the eight-hour gathering that started with prayer and culminated with the Farrakhan speech.
Robert Woods, of La Plata, Md., who attended the Million Man March 20 years ago was somewhat blasé as he left the march with his adult daughters. “It was good for its purpose but it was not like 20 years ago,” he said pointing to trash strewn on the ground. In 1995, he said, the men were admonished so specifically to pull up their lives that they even made sure to clean up the National Mall as they left. He also recalled how women encouraged men to go to the march in 1995. “It brought tears to my eyes when the women were hanging out of the car doors saying, ‘Thank you, brother’.
Curtis Jones, 38, who traveled from Atlanta, appeared excited about Minister Farrakhan’s appeal to withhold spending at Christmas.
“This is the first time in my lifetime that someone has stood on a platform and talked about us coming together economically,” he said.
Angela Wright said she was impressed by the meticulous organization of the march itself. Even going forward, she said the instruction to text “Unity to 99000” given out to the audience by leaders of the Nation of Islam for future information, would help people remain informed. However, like Gravely, she felt somewhat let down.
“I felt powerful, I felt love, I felt unity. At the same time, I was thinking that the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan was going to direct his speech and thoughts specifically to what’s at hand right now in the present, which is the consistent murders of Black innocent life. I was a little disappointed to hear that he didn’t target those sort of ideals and ideas, what his theories were on them and how we can move forward strategically. It seemed like a more cross-cutting approach.”
Others sort of cherry picked through the message, taking hold of what they thought would be good for them and their community.
“Everybody’s been asking about the ‘Or Else’, what that is and the economic message,” said Jesse Frierson, executive director of the Virginia Alliance Against Mass Incarceration. “Obviously part of it is to give Christmas back. Let’s not shop for Christmas; let’s save our money.”
Frierson, who has four sons between the ages of 17-22, said he would adhere to the boycott. “Of course,” he said. “I’ve never been a big Christmas type fan in terms of selling kids on Christmas,” said Frierson, a former banker. “That’s a really big move.”