20 years ago, Minister Louis Farrakhan led a march on the National Mall to symbolize a unified front of the black community against inequality & injustice. So when word of the 2nd Million Man March hit, it only seemed right to team up with Tia Hendricks of Black Humanity to experience this piece of history and to document it all. As a result, this week's Storyteller Sunday experience will be a bit different. We will hear people's responses and temperament on the basis of what the march intended on representing, followed by my own illustration of the environment in the moment.
#JusticeOrElse, the tagline for what some called Louis Farrakhan's "War cry", seemed to be met by local law enforcement's keen eye and a sense containment as a form of preparing for the worst. Police officers on horseback walked the streets in between the sectioned off standing areas what seemed like every 10 minutes, ready for unruly behavior that never came. In fact, in reading the tagline and interpreting it on my own, I too expected a general sense of frustration throughout the entire crowd during the march. Little did I know, the event was much less of a march and much more of a sermon; a thought that was echoed amongst a few people that I had the pleasure of meeting and sharing conversation with during the day. Unfortunately at the same time (and same vicinity) #JusticeOrElse was taking place, so were a few other marches and protests for other issues, which seemed to really decimate the electric energy that should have been in the air during such a historic occasion. But even with that, the show still went on.
In what some would call an accomplishment, the National Mall was packed with people of all shapes, sizes, skin tones and backgrounds. Some would say that just the opportunity to gather is an accomplishment. Some would say that being able to vocalize an opinion in DC, on the National Mall is also an accomplishment. Some would also say that seeing so many black people in one place acting calm, cool & collected is also an accomplishment but to those people that would say those things, it seems they too have fallen victim to the image portrayed and expected of us from the media (the same media that barely covered the event to begin with).
The march, from what I gathered, was a bit disappointing and underwhelming compared to what I was expecting in the days leading up to the event. As a photographer documenting history, I walked the crowd looking and watching as people reacted and responded to the words of the speakers at the podium and what I saw was a disconnect. People covered the grounds of the National Mall and areas surrounding it for hours with Black American flags & Caribbean flags waving throughout the crowd but more so as a way to be seen than in agreement with the speeches. What I saw were selfie sticks in the air, snap chatting in front of the crowd, people on the hunt for celebrity faces and people on the outskirts selling everything from water and drinks to tee shirts and mixtapes. Yet, when I checked social media both last night and this morning, everyone that had a photo to show that they attended the event had only good things to say about it. Everyone seemed to have learned so much and gained so much from the experience which was quite different than what I felt.
The only thing I felt as the day went on was a feeling that I can only describe as frustration. With everything that has gone on this year with documented police killings and riots breaking out in places around the country, I expected more of a hunger for change; more of a fight for justice (as the tagline insists). But the vibe I got as I stood there and watched everything transpiring around me was a deep sense of complacency. We were satisfied enough with the fact that people showed up and didn't fight each other but what does that say about what we expect from each other? People came out in protest but too afraid to walk near dirt or mud because they didn't want to mess up their shoes. People falling asleep as Farrakhan and his speakers found a way to make the day about a separation in religion as opposed to a unifying of people. People so consumed with their social media lives that they unenthusiastically stood there making videos and asked strangers to take their photos as a means of seeming deep and profound for their followers. The thing that was most offensive to me is that people don't even understand the box we are so comfortably placed in and allowed to exist in. But then again, maybe I expect too much.
Did I want to see a riot? No. Did I want to see more police violence as a result of an uproar? No. But what I did want to leave with was a feeling that there is change on the horizon, that our requests to be received as equal human beings was accepted and progress is made in seeing that it happens. What I got was the complete opposite. 20 years ago they marched for the same things as we stood for on 10.10.15 and yet we still have seen no change, but people are content with that fact that at least the numbers appeared to be met. That to me is embarrassing because at the end of the day, what did we really stand for?
~Life, Love & Equality
Written by: Yogi
Photos & Video by: Yogi
Questions by: Tia Hendricks