The event marks the 16th anniversary of the first march in Washington, D.C.
Tackling Philly's Staggering Poverty Crisis
By Ada Kulesza
In a line that wrapped around the block, black men of all ages waited mostly in silence for food. It reminded Kenny Gamble—and no doubt countless others who drove or walked by—of a scene from the Great Depression. But it was just the other day, on Spring Garden Street near 12th, that the songwriting legend came upon this setting.
“It’s a mess down here” in Philadelphia, says Gamble, who’s been working on community organizing for 20 years as founder of the Philly-based nonprofit Universal Companies. “The root of poverty, the root of violence and the root of hopelessness is the lack of resources and the lack of education available,” he says.
And it’s because of all this that Gamble is helping to organize the Millions More Movement’s celebration of the 16th anniversary of the Million Man March at the Convention Center on Oct. 7-9. The Millions More Movement, spearheaded by firebrand Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan in 2005, will convene to commiserate the apparent failures of the first march in 1995 and address the steps needed to solve the city’s problems—which local organizing leaders say are a mirror for issues across the nation. No. 1 on the list? Hunger.
Poverty is up everywhere in the U.S., but blacks in Philly are being hit especially hard. A walk along Ridge Avenue or through parts of West and North Philly, to gaze on the dilapidation and listlessness, attests to the stats. The 2010 Census shows Philadelphia at 27 percent poverty overall—compared with 24 percent before the financial crisis in 2008. Black adults are at 31 percent poverty, and black children are at 36 percent. Thirty seven percent of blacks are unemployed (females more than males). And the stats don’t bode well for whites, either: 19.2 percent live in poverty now, compared with the year 2000, when the level was 14 percent.
And Pennsylvania’s First Congressional District—encompassing everything east of Broad Street in Philly, the airport and parts of Delaware County—ranked second in the nation in hunger after the economic crisis, according to the nonprofit Food Research and Action Center.
The local organizing committee is taking immediate action by asking all conference attendees to bring a nonperishable food item to donate. Then they’ll get down to the nitty gritty: serious discussions about the other problems plaguing black Philadelphia—joblessness, incarceration rates and crime—and the solutions.
Gamble, chairman of the local organizing committee, says the goals of the anniversary celebration are to motivate, coordinate and mobilize a consciousness. Education will be the big focus, which is why youth will have face time with the Millions More Movement leadership on Oct. 8. The next day, Farrakhan will deliver the keynote address, titled “Atonement, Reconciliation and Responsibility.” The committee organizers emphasize that addressing race is the step, after hunger, to healing the city’s wounds. “Let’s put it to bed,” says co-organizer Bilal Qayyum. “Let’s have an honest discussion about race,” he says.
Qayyum was named co-chair of Mayor Nutter’s Commission on African American Males, created last month, to follow through with goals established by the Father’s Day Rally in four key areas: health, criminal justice, economic development and education. They’re charged with submitting annual reports to the mayor in those areas. In fact, it was Qayyum’s idea to reinstitute the commission that was established by Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr. in 1991 (which goes to show how much things have improved since then).
The group believes that narrowing the black-and-white divide can begin now because “a lot of white folks are experiencing what black folks experienced,” Qayyum says. “The same folks who are blocking you out are who blocked us out. It ain’t me and my people who are keeping you folks from getting gold clocks at retirement.”
Qayyum adds that the old prejudices aren’t relevant any more. After all, Philly isn’t just a black and white city; it has all shades of Latino and Asian in between. “We need to work together. If there’s a crisis in the African American community, there’s a crisis in the city ... There’s a saying about African Americans. When America’s got a cold, African Americans get pneumonia.”
Oct. 7-9. Doors open at noon on Friday; meetings start at 2 p.m. Info and tickets at NOI.org.
Blacks From Across the U.S. Get Back on the Bus
By Shahida Muhammad
Jamal Johnson has no clue about the Million Man March. After all, the 22-year-old was only 6 when the historical gathering summoned more than two million black men to Washington, D.C., on Oct. 16, 1995, for the Holy Day of Atonement. “I never knew anything about that march,” he says, sitting in a Germantown barbershop. His remark elicits sadness from a middle-aged client seated across from him who shakes his head in disbelief. Barber Kyle Mitchell takes time out from cutting a client’s hair to school Johnson: “I will never forget that day; all those black men standing together peacefully— these young guys need to see that.”
As Mitchell recalls the event, the younger men in the barbershop listen in amazement. “I remember getting into D.C. very early in the morning and just seeing thousands of black men everywhere. Everyone was in good spirits,” Mitchell says. “It was a sight to see.”
Black men were asked to go back home and start anew, taking responsibility for themselves, their families and their communities. The event created such a wave of black unity and pride that there were jump-off gatherings like the Million Women March, the Million Family March and the Millions More Movement. It even prompted Director Spike Lee to make a film about the aftermath, called Get on the Bus .
The generational disconnect that distances the younger guys in the barbershop like Johnson against the older ones like Mitchell is what Farrakhan and local organizers hope to bridge during the 16th anniversary of the Million Man March being hosted in Philly this weekend.
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