An Oct. 14 op-ed column by David Nicholson on the Millions More Movement misidentified the company of which Richard Parsons is chief executive. It is now called Time Warner Inc. (Published 10/18/2005)
One question that anyone going to tomorrow's anniversary observance of the Million Man March ought to ask is whether black Americans are better off now than they were at the time of the first march 10 years ago. By many measures the answer is no.
Black unemployment, at nearly 11 percent, according to the National Urban League report "The State of Black America 2005," is virtually unchanged. Black men earn about 70 percent of what white men earn, up a mere 3 percent. Sixty-eight percent of black children are born out of wedlock, compared to about 70 percent a decade ago.
The anniversary march, also called the Millions More Movement, is billed as an attempt to "mobilize and organize our people nationally, and put systems in place that will permit a successful programmatic thrust to bring to fruition what we envision for ourselves and our people."
But given what the statistics tell us about the state of black America, and the lack of a concrete, visible programmatic thrust arising from the march 10 years ago, it's hard not to see tomorrow's gathering as at best an anachronism and at worst an exercise in self-aggrandizement on the part of three of its primary figures -- Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, civil rights stalwart Jesse Jackson and erstwhile presidential candidate Al Sharpton.
Forty-two years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to hundreds of thousands of people from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Farrakhan, Jackson and Sharpton -- the men who would be King -- seek to proclaim themselves his heirs by outdrawing him on the Mall.
That they would even contemplate such a thing, and that a million men (and women) might come to Washington to hear them, is a sad commentary on the lack of vision these black leaders show in the opening years of the 21st century.
Sharpton is only 51, but Farrakhan, 72, and Jackson, 64, were formed in the struggles of the 1960s, which may explain why they've trapped themselves in a logical error. It's as if they said to themselves, "We blacks had problems in the '60s and we solved them by marching. We've still got problems -- let's march."
It won't work. Marches are great for calling attention to problems, but to change them you need movements, which is why, of course, it's no longer the Million Man March but the Millions More Movement.
It's a long way, however, from a change in name to the kind of substantive, well-thought-out programs that might eventually result in change.
Most of the 10 issues that the Millions More Movement seeks to address -- unity, spiritual values, education, economic development, political power, health care -- are unobjectionable, though there's a remarkable lack of detail about how, for example, to expand businesses in decaying black neighborhoods. Others -- a demand for reparations for slavery and "freedom for all political prisoners held in U.S. prisons" -- are the kind of hokum that shouldn't have survived the '60s.
In 1963, when King stepped up to the lectern, he might have been -- as Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom suggest in "America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible" -- the beneficiary of racial attitudes that had been changing since the 1940s.
Today, however, I suspect, racial attitudes are changing again. White Americans feel (more or less correctly) that the battles have been won and that blacks enjoy the same opportunities they do. And while they may not voice their concerns publicly, they wonder (and who can blame them?) why so many black men are in prison or on parole, why so many black children are born out of wedlock, and why even middle-class black kids don't do as well on standardized tests as whites.
It's going to take a lot more than a 10-point platform, and speeches on the Mall, to change the realities that lead to the perception that maybe black people aren't quite good enough.
Surfing the Web the other day, I came on a list of 50 of the most powerful black executives, 34 of them from Fortune 500 companies. There were chief executive officers and chief operating officers, presidents, general managers, and senior vice presidents -- an impressive array of business talent.
It probably won't ever happen, of course, but I'd like to see some of those men (and women) take sabbaticals to head traditional civil rights organizations such as the NAACP or the Urban League for a year or two. Men like Richard Parsons, who heads AOL, Stanley O'Neal, second-in-command at Merrill Lynch, or Kenneth I. Chenault, American Express's CEO, didn't get where they are by looking backward.
It's too bad we can't say the same about those who'll raise their voices in oratory tomorrow on the Mall.
David Nicholson is a Washington writer.