Ask black men who attended the Million Man March in 1995 about the experience, and a typical response is a smile and a gaze into a faraway place followed by wistful remembrances of the "brothers" they met and the lift in spirits they felt for weeks and months after it was over.
Keith Brockington missed the inspiring pep rallies in advance of the march, the caravan of buses from all over the country and the chance to stand on the Mall to be counted. He was in Germany, a staff sergeant in the Air Force, repairing aircraft and wishing he were home.
Now a civilian and settled in his native Baltimore, Brockington, 49, has a bus seat reserved for this weekend's 10th anniversary celebration -- and he plans to bring six or seven children from his apartment complex whom he helps with homework and takes on field trips. "I have to be there," he said. "I missed the Million Man March."
Ten years after that historic event drew hundreds of thousands of black men to Washington, the 10th anniversary celebration planned for this weekend is drawing a range of responses from people across the Baltimore and Washington region.
Some, like Brockington, are playing catch-up. Some are coming out of a sense of obligation or dedication to the issues of equal rights and justice for African Americans. Others who attended last time are not convinced it is the best approach and plan to stay home. Rare is the person who believes that the Millions More Movement, as the anniversary event is called, will match the intensity of the original.
Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who conceived both events, has often been accused of being sexist and anti-Semitic, but is supported in these efforts to unify the black community by a broad spectrum of black groups, including the NAACP and the National Council of Negro Women.
The goal 10 years ago was to draw as many participants to the Mall as possible and to highlight internal and external challenges facing the black community. The goal this time, organizers say, is to mobilize people to begin changing policies that leaders say keep many African Americans in poverty.
Organizers are planning for up to 1 million people, but there are signs that the breadth of support on the street is no match for what it was a decade ago. Communities that sent busloads then are sending fewer or none. Posters are scarce, as are radio advertisements. And questions about the anniversary celebration in communities that were supportive a decade ago are often answered with a question: Is there another march?
Carl Snowden, who attended last time, believes that the novelty and utility of mass gatherings are spent.
"We have had the Million Man March, the Million Woman March, the Million Mothers March, the Million Youth March and now the Millions More Movement," said Snowden, a former Annapolis City Council member who said he has no plan to attend the events this weekend. "What is the purpose of the Millions More Movement? What does it mean?"
The anniversary gathering, like the first, is not a march at all. There will be a large assemblage on the Mall on Saturday for a day of speeches, with a calendar of events starting tomorrow and running through Sunday.
Committees began meeting months ago to develop specific proposals to address legislative and economic policies that have left some blacks shut out of society's mainstream. The residual effects from the Million Man March -- increased voter registrations and volunteerism in black communities -- were the result of individual initiative, organizers admit.
"This is a departure from the last one," said University of Maryland political science professor Ron Walters, who helped plan both events, "because we want to make it meaningful and create an apparatus to implement the recommendations."
Ten years ago, Mashadi Matabane was a student at Spelman College in Atlanta and got caught up in the buzz, hoping particularly that the gathering would enhance the role of women in the black community. Now, she's just skeptical.
"It is like lip service," said Matabane, 28. "It is like an empty rally call. People show up in numbers, promises are made and then people go home and nothing changes. I get a sense that it is fun for a lot of young people to beat on drums and shout political rhymes."
Brian Pierre, a special education teacher at Hyattsville Middle School, disagrees.
"I think that marches are good, because in our society there are times when we need to be re-energized because after a period of time people lose focus," he said.
Brockington, of Baltimore, said he plans to attend because his community needs some focus.
His day job involves tearing things down for the Baltimore city government; his evenings are spent building up children -- hundreds of them -- in his apartment complex. For a glimpse into Charm City's dark side, television audiences can tune in to "The Wire," the cable television drama that delves into the lives of drug dealers, hard-drinking cops and complex characters who often ride the blurry line between good and evil.
But at the Latrobe apartment complex, just blocks from where the program is filmed, " 'The Wire' is real life for these kids," Brockington said. He's hoping the children he takes to the event can learn something or meet somebody who will show them -- as he often tries to -- that there's more to life than the streets.
"I want them to see the discipline of the young men" in the Nation of Islam, he said, "to see how well mannered and respectful they are. . . . And I hope we can get out the message to the government that it's time for a change."
The Million Man March in 1995 packed hundreds of thousands on the Mall. The anniversary event may draw a smaller crowd.
Keith Brockington, who works with children at Baltimore's Latrobe Youth Development Center, plays air hockey with Desean Smith.