The Million Youth March should have been a quintessential experience for our youth the way it was for the participants at the Million Man and Million Woman Marches. Thousands of young people, toddlers, school-age children, teenagers, adolescents, young adults, showed up for an event that was supposed to be about them. The first speaker, 17-year-old Damian, a youth leader and member of the Boys Choir of Harlem, declared “Generation X is the New Millennium!” Placards told of concerns about AIDS, homelessness, education, housing, racism, health, Reparations and empowerment, self-respect, brotherly love and Black Power. Two young men representing the Five-Percenters spoke about family. There were Erica Ford’s demands for Black Power underscoring the need for Black self-love, Black economic development and political empowerment. A young couple from California, the Los Angeles coordinators, embodied the movement and energy of youth in their dramatic message about respect. There were other young speakers, and the audience listened to all of them. They were ready for something new. These young leaders were hard enough and strong enough to talk about peace. Older soldiers, scholars, politicians and others- from Dr. Ben and Dr. Jeffries to the people’s mayor, The Rev. Al Sharpton and Harlem’s mayor Delois Blakely showed that the greatest weapon is the mind and the real untelevised revolution is the one that takes place in the mind’s eye first. Waiting in the shadows to talk about such issues as Voting and Education were Cornel West and Adelaide Sanford. Their voices were not heard that day. There was no time.
Yes, there was all this at the March, but what our youth got was “Apocalypse Now” — rhetoric, lingo, mega-guns, sharpshooters, pepperspray and helicopters. They were given this by adults who focused on termination rather than determination, action, unity. And with only four hours to get the message out, too many speakers used the time unwittingly to promote the enemy, real and perceived.
There were rumors – later verified by callers to radio talk shows – that Harlem school gyms were filled to capacity with artillery and weapons. We saw horsemen lined up at Marcus Garvey Park, water tanks on 110th and Lenox. It was reportedly planned that injured police officers would go to St. Luke’s or Roosevelt Hospital while marchers would be taken to Harlem Hospital or North General. Was someone preparing for an all-out military operation?
Perhaps the legacy of the Million Youth March is this: in its effort to bring youth issues to the forefront for discussion and solutions, the March itself was a reflection of the monster challenges many of our youth say they face daily in their personal lives: there is never enough time to take time, few appear to be listening to them, there’s a constant threat of being shot down, and the guardians who would lead, protect, teach and guide the children are in need of guidance and leadership skills, themselves.
In the end, the youth were the heroes. They restrained themselves at the barricades, and protected the women and children in the path of riot police. They invoked the spirits of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and the Million Marches. They included Rap artists, security personnel, The One Hundred Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, mothers and fathers who care, the residents along Malcolm X Blvd. and its side streets, the Bedford Stuyvesant Ambulance unit and many, many more. They were calm and they were calming, and they stood their ground on Malcolm X Blvd .. . like real warriors.
Khalid Muhammad’s most challenging moment may have occurred six hours after the rally and less than a mile away from 118th St. and Malcolm X. Blvd. A busload of youth had come up from North Carolina to participate in the rally. They wanted to take home more than the next morning’s headlines. And they had some serious questions of the March convener. Khalid took a deep breath and walked over to their circle. On a dimly-lit sidewalk a few feet away from a bustling Harlem avenue , he quietly listened to their questions. The easiest to answer concerned the reasons for the libations ceremony and why Master P was so heavily promoted. (Eds. note:The rap mogul provided the much-needed last-minute financial backing for the event). Khalid thought perhaps the youth group’s adult leader had encouraged her charges to prod him a little. But he said this with a sigh, as if he understood that that’s a youth leader’s role.
(We present in this issue speeches that may have been lost in the blitz to report on the March’s final minutes. In this issue, also, are some of the March supporters I spoke to in the crowd at the frontlines.Next month, Fatima Prioleau, Sharonne Salaam, C. Virginia Fields, and more.)