Christians and Muslims packed Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church Wednesday as the Nation of Islam and organizers of the Million Man March announced that a rally will take place this October on the Mall commemorating the 20th anniversary of the event.
Two decades after the historic gathering of African American men that stretched from the steps of the Capitol to the grounds of the Washington Monument, Louis Farrakhan was back in form during a two-hour address where he offered a scorching critique of race relations in the United States, politicians and even church leaders, for not doing more to prevent incidents like the mass shooting at a church in South Carolina.
“These are not the times for weak people, for cowardly people,” said Farrakhan, who announced that the Oct. 10 event on the Mall in response to a range of social ills he said are plaguing African Americans, including police shootings and other attacks against people of color.
Farrakhan, who came to town with a large contingency of Nation of Islam members, shared the pulpit with AME church leaders as well as Rev. Willie Wilson, pastor of the Union Temple Baptist Church, and Benjamin Chavis Muhammad, who played a key role in the Million Man March on Oct 16, 1995.
“When we look at 20 years ago, God showed us what can happen and what we can do when we are guided by divine direction” said Wilson, adding, “this time around, with the unity of all these ethnicities, all these races and all these people who are crying out, we expect that we can multiply what we did 20 years ago to make a great difference in this nation.”
Wilson said they have obtained the permits for the gathering on the Mall, and there is a nationwide effort to mobilize people to attend. One person playing a critical role in the effort this year is the Rev. Jamal Bryant, pastor of the Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, who has been a leader in the effort protesting police shootings nationwide.
“We are in fact giving an ultimatum: justice or else,” Bryant said. “We are no longer looking for symbolic victory. We are looking for substance. . . . We are not terrorist, we are citizens who have been terrorized.”
While Farrakhan praised pioneers of the AME church, such as founder Richard Allen, for being leaders of the African American struggle for liberation, he also challenged church leaders for being too wiling to forgive the Charleston shooting suspect, Dylann Roof, because, first of all, “he didn’t ask for forgiveness.”
“That snake walked into one of our churches, and you know how we are,” Farrakhan said. He said had it been a black person who came to the church with a certain hair style and his pants drooping, “We would have met him at the door.”
In addition to men and women from the Nation of Islam, Robert Bovell, the owner of a construction company, came from Delaware to attend the event with several of his friends. Bovell was at the Million Man March in 1995.
“I believe that [this event] will be a resurrection, a different type of wake up call” Bovell said. “Twenty years ago, things were 20 years different. Now that we have moved 20 years ahead, the only difference is more of us are dying.”