Kevin and Shirley Cole wanted to beat the crowds to the Malcolm X Day Celebration in Anacostia Park yesterday, so they packed up a blanket, a portable radio and their 6-year-old son Alan and left their home on Naylor Road SE before noon. Their reward for the early start was a spot under one of the park's few shade trees -- and space for their 3-foot-tall son to swing his 4-foot-long red plastic baseball bat.
"Alan knows a little bit about Martin Luther King Jr.," Shirley Cole said, "but not much at all about Malcolm X. This could help him learn about the man."
Young Alan Cole seemed indifferent to the frequent calls from politicians, celebrities and performing artists to "say no to drugs" and to remember the life and teachings of the slain Black Muslim leader. He also failed to notice the red, black and green banner stretched across the stage emblazoned with the words "15th Annual Malcolm X Day."
But like many in the mostly young audience -- estimated at 10,000 by U.S. Park Police -- that came in sticky 91-degree temperatures for what organizers called "a day of positive thinking," Alan Cole seemed captured by the rhythmic pounding of drums as he danced to the music of the African Heritage Drummers and Dancers.
"We talked to some other people about coming here," Kevin Cole said. "But they said no way were they coming down here because of the heat. That's too bad, because everything has been pretty good."
The celebration marked what would have been the 61st birthday of the charismatic minister who was shot and killed in February 1965, a year after he split with Elijah Muhammad, his former mentor and founder of the Nation of Islam.
This year's festivities featured performances by a dozen local entertainers and short speeches from elected officials. D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, who announced his candidacy for a third term on Saturday, was scheduled to speak, but an aide came instead. D.C. City Council Chairman David Clarke talked of Malcolm X's "vision of struggle for success and equality."
Disc jockeys from radio station WDJY -- a cosponsor of the celebration along with the United Black Fund and Hands Across America -- reminded the audience of the day's theme at every opportunity: "Say no to drugs." But police reported 20 arrests, all on drug charges.
Darnell Williams, who stars as Jesse Hubbard on the soap opera "All My Children," captured the attention of the audience, but he spoke only of the Hands Across America project, scheduled for Sunday, and didn't mention Malcolm X.
Juanita Brawner, 18, who lives on Ely Place in Southeast Washington, came to the park with nine family members to hear the several go-go bands.
"Some people here realize what Malcolm X was about, but most are here because of the music," Brawner said. "They should talk more about Malcolm X. But if they talk, talk, talk, people would just leave. Like they are doing now."