Funk rock and reggie music mingled with speeches to the theme of "peace and unity in the black community" and made the 10th annual Malcolm X Day Celebration festive and upbeat for the thousands of people gathered under a blazing sun and blue skies in Anacostia Park yesterday.
Park police estimated that between 15,000 and 18,000 people, many from Southeast Washington, came to the park by bicycle, car and foot for the event organized by the Malcolm X Cultural Education Center. It has become one of the most heavily attended spring events in the District.
Malcolm X, also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, was a Muslim convert and once the chief spokesman for the Nation of Islam. He also was an electrifying political activist who spoke out against racism in America and political oppression in Africa. He urged blacks to unite. He was assassinated Feb. 21, 1965. "Our [black people's] problem is no longer a national struggle for civil rights," Malcolm X once said, "but an international struggle for human rights."
The music of the Progressive Funk warmed up the crowd for the first speaker, Ron Clarke of RAP Incorporated, a drug rehabilitation center. "It's not enough to come out for one day and pay homage to brother Malcolm," Clarke said, his voice rising and shaking. "We must understand the importance of his existence and what he meant to us as black people in this country and the world."
"If we go away with nothing else," Clarke told the crowd, "we should understand that we must solve our own problems and that the concept of 'I' is individualistic, and alone we can do nothing. But the concept of 'we' is African and together we can do anything."
About a dozen community leaders and nationally known figures followed Clarke, most stressing black solidarity, awareness and self-reliance. Among the speakers were Dr. Betty Shabazz, wife of the late Malcolm X; D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy; Calvin Rolark, president of the United Black Fund, the event's sponsor; the Rev. Ben Chavis, spokesman for the National Black Independent Political Party, and Eunice Jones, mother of one of the slain Atlanta children and a spokeswoman for the Committee to Stop Children's Murders.
"I don't know what Malcolm would say today because if he was alive a lot of the things going on today wouldn't be going on," Shabazz said. "I feel very sad that he isn't here today because we have a lot of young people who are precipitously going from crisis to crisis. They need role models like Malcolm"
Posters of Malcolm X and signs proclaiming, "Malcolm still lives in us," rose from the mass of people who stood listening to the speakers or dancing to the music. Others lounged in the grass, eating ice cream, drinking sodas and beer, holding family picnics or just talking and laughing with friends.
The otherwise joyous afternoon was marred by violence when a Korean store manager was stabbed in the back by an unknown assailant as he scuffled with a 15-year-old youth trying to steal cookies from his store, D.C. police said. The manager, Dong Kang, was admitted to Washington Hospital Center in serious condition. Seventh District officers arrested the youth on charges of attempted larceny and simple assault.
Police said the incident occurred about 6:30 p.m. when about 50 celebrants jammed into a 7-Eleven store at 1406 Good Hope Rd. SE. A scooter officer who went to the scene was slightly injured in the back by one of two bricks thrown through the plate glass window and glass door of the store, police said. Shoving matches broke out among several customers, police said, but no other injuries were reported.