In the immediate aftermath of the Million Man March, black men nationwide held their heads higher, vowed to be better men and walked with a more confident air.
A decade later, buses are poised to roll again, the Jumbotrons are on order and a permit has been issued for as many as 1 million people to descend on the Mall for next weekend's 10th anniversary.
Many of the speakers, including Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who conceived of the idea for the first march and the anniversary, are in familiar roles. Organizers are again asking supporters to take a "day of absence" from shopping, working and attending sports events or movies Friday in a show of solidarity.
But organizers are making no predictions on how many people will attend the Millions More Movement, as the anniversary event is called. Last time, the focus was to flood the Mall with people, but that goal is secondary this time, Farrakhan said.
"The Million Man March was a call to black men to come together, not so much to demand something from the government but to demand something from ourselves," Farrakhan said in a telephone interview from his home in Phoenix on Thursday. "We didn't plan for the day after the march. This time, the day after the march is when the real work begins."
At a news conference yesterday, organizers laid out a schedule of events that will begin midweek and run through the weekend. There will be sessions to discuss the failure of the education system to adequately teach black children, the high incarceration rate of young African American men and ways to make the political process more responsive to minority groups and, specifically, poor people who depend on assistance to survive.
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has become a key rallying point. Black leaders, including Farrakhan, have said that the government's response to the hurricane and flooding was slowed because many of those in need were poor and black. It showed a world audience, they said, that although the United States tries to solve other countries' problems, its own house needs cleaning.
"Those who had their eyes closed, Katrina opened them up," the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast Washington and national executive director of the event, said yesterday. "Those who thought we had it made will see that we don't. The masses of our people remain in impoverished conditions."
The focus of the event is not the only difference between the first march and this one. One key difference is that Farrakhan is no longer considered an outsider. Black leaders, including D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, fully support this march, seemingly without worrying that some of Farrakhan's past comments -- criticized by some as mean-spirited, sexist and anti-Semitic -- will tarnish them. Farrakhan, who survived a bout with prostate cancer, said he has also grown in the past decade. Instead of a purely black, nationalistic message, he said, his goal is to join forces with all like-minded people.
"We must attend to the needs of our people, but we must also form strategic alliances with Latinos, Native Americans and the poor people of this nation to find common cause, to pool our resources and to reshape foreign policy," Farrakhan said. Gay leaders will also be among the speakers, he said, a point of contention in the gay community for the first march.
A list of speakers has been compiled and, like before, includes representatives from national groups such as the Congressional Black Caucus, entertainers such as Russell Simmons and academics including Cornel West. But it is uncertain whether the enthusiasm of the rank and file will match that of the Million Man March, which drew hundreds of thousands and held audiences around the world rapt.
Marlon Shackelford, 42, has seen a big difference in his home town of Dayton, Ohio.
A decade ago, Shackelford was on one of the many buses that brought men to Washington. Finding a ride this time has been harder.
"Ten years ago, our church [Omega Baptist Church] chartered four buses, and other churches in the city did the same. There were about 15 buses," said Shackelford, executive director of Black Brothers/Sisters Involvement. "In Dayton this time, I don't see anything."
March organizers asked for a permit for up to 1 million people, said National Park Service spokesman Bill Line. "We don't count. We only go with the number that the applicant provides." The agency got out of the counting business after the Million Man March. The Park Service, after flying over the event, estimated that 400,000 people attended. But researchers at Boston University estimated the crowd at more than 800,000.
Mark Thompson, a radio personality at WOL-AM, served as a host of the 1995 march and will serve in a similar role this year. He is unsure of what to expect.
"The word has gotten out, but we don't know how many people will come because our world is much more complex than it was 10 years ago," Thompson said. "The country is at war, unemployment is higher and Hurricane Katrina was a glaring example of how the issue of poverty in this country is not being addressed."