Farrakhan Offers Anniversary Message of Defiance, Unity

"This time, the day after the march is when the real work begins," says Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, shown in January this year. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Robert E. Pierre Hamil R. Harris
Friday, October 14, 2005

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan said yesterday that America remains rife with racism that keeps too many blacks poor, uneducated and out of work and that to overcome it, black Americans must unite and draw strength from one another.

Farrakhan, in Washington for events to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March, including a rally tomorrow on the Mall, blasted federal anti-poverty efforts over the last 30 years as hypocritical attempts to either win votes or temporarily pacify the downtrodden. But, in keeping with his self-help message, Farrakhan said that before any progress can be made, black people must spend less and produce more rather than immediately seek government help.

"We're tired of begging others to do for us what we have the capacity to do for ourselves," he said. "If you don't have a desire to help yourself, nobody will help you."

His comments came during a wide-ranging news conference at the National Press Club in which he touched on police brutality, the state of the education system and his own personal growth over the decades.

Looking well after a bout with prostate cancer, Farrakhan was characteristically defiant and blunt -- decrying the Bush administration and chiding his critics for seeking to have other black leaders repudiate him for remarks they perceive as sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic. His rebuttal was this: Mind your own business.

"Go talk to black people," he said. "We are in the room because our people need our unity. It's our business. And we're going to take care of our business."

Those critics include the Anti-Defamation League, which, on its Web site yesterday, termed the event a "sideshow." David Bernstein, Washington director of the American Jewish Committee, said that Farrakhan's involvement mars the event, regardless of its purpose.

"It taints everybody," Bernstein said. "We think it's regrettable."

Farrakhan moved this week to soothe a rift within the movement over attitudes toward gay men and lesbians. In July, the Rev. Willie Wilson, pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast Washington and the national executive director for tomorrow's gathering, said in a sermon at his church that lesbians were about to take over and that black women who earn more than men are partly to blame for breaking up families -- notions widely criticized. But this week, Farrakhan offered Keith Boykin, president of the National Black Justice Coalition, which advocates for gay rights, a speaking slot on tomorrow's program. There was no gay representation among speakers 10 years ago, a source of estrangement in the black gay, lesbian and bisexual community ever since.

"It is our most sincere hope that this portends a new chapter in the story of how we liberated our community from the prison of homophobia," said H. Alexander Robinson, executive director of the coalition, in a statement. "This chapter is about reconciliation, education and acceptance of the gifts and talents that gay people of African descent have and will continue to contribute to the quest to lift up our people."

Organizers said yesterday that 3,000 buses and tens of thousands of cars will converge on Washington beginning tonight for tomorrow's gathering, called the Millions More Movement. Speeches and music begin at 5:30 a.m. A series of events at Freedom Plaza, sponsored by black gays and lesbians, will also take place.

Minister Benjamin Chavis Muhammad, who was the national director of the Million Man March, said he was unsure if the numbers will rival those of 1995, when hundreds of thousands showed up.

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