Thousands of people waving flags, carrying signs and listening to speeches and songs gathered Saturday on the National Mall in Washington for the 20th anniversary of the Reverend Louis Farrakhan's Million Man March.
Souvenir vendors offered T-shirts, signs, buttons and posters as people walked through security barricades surrounding the Capitol and other buildings to join the rally, the theme of which was “Justice or Else.”
Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, an Islamic religious movement, said that black men and women should forsake foul language and violence against each other. He also spoke against abortion, saying that “it is your body, you can do what you want with it,” but that it would be tragic if a future scientist or leader were aborted.
Farrakhan also praised the young protesters behind the Black Lives Matter movement. He called them the next leaders of the civil rights movement and urged older leaders to support them “to carry the torch of liberation to the next step.”
Andrew Bryant, 67, of Washington, who participated in the Million Man March in 1995, said he joined the rally Saturday “to see all the people in peace” and “listen to a well-spoken message.” He was eager “to hear solutions to all the problems going on in the black community, basically in the United States, period.”
Bryant said the Million Man March called upon black men to “do things for the betterment of their neighborhood.” Twenty years later, he said, it's time “to build our economic strength and build our political strength, and basically we got to get together and get that in the minds of young people.”
Ira Y.D. Walden of Miami, a rap artist and CEO of the record label 4 Life Entertainment, was too young to march in 1995, but he said he attended Saturday's anniversary rally because he liked the concept of "Justice or Else" in light of all the “racial things that have been going on in America. It’s excellent because we’re coming together all for one cause. It doesn’t matter what race you are — there are things that need to be done right in America.”
Pledge to improve
Farrakhan spearheaded the original march on October 16, 1995, which brought hundreds of thousands to Washington to pledge to improve their lives, their families and their communities.
Saturday's rally repeated that theme but incorporated calls for justice in response to a number of shootings of black American men.
WATCH: VOA Video of the Justice or Else rally
Attention has been focused on the relationship between African-American men and law enforcement since the fatal shootings of two blacks — Trayvon Martin, 17, who was shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012 in Florida, and Michael Brown, 18, who was shot during an altercation with a police officer in 2014 in Missouri.
Since then, the deaths of other unarmed black males at the hands of law enforcement have inspired protests under the "Black Lives Matter'' moniker around the country.
Women, whites and other minorities were not invited to the original march. To mark the anniversary Saturday, Farrakhan called for a mass gathering, this time including other marginalized groups, Native Americans and Hispanics among them.
The 1995 event was the fourth-largest demonstration in Washington history, and the largest predominantly black gathering.
President Barack Obama, who attended the first Million Man March, was in California on Saturday.
VOA's Mike Richman contributed to this report.