Thousands of black Americans gathered in Washington Saturday to promote unity and commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Million Man march organized by the Nation of Islam.
Men, women, young people and old converged on Washington from all parts of the country to show spiritual unity and push for an agenda of change. Washington clergyman Willie Wilson told the crowd that black identity transcends religion. "When we talk about spirituality that becomes the one basis upon which we can unify. Not religion but spirituality," he said.
Elijah Cummings, a member of Congress from suburban Washington, read out a covenant, in which the audience joined, that emphasized personal responsibility and moral character. "I will seek to gain great knowledge of what I am as a human being and a great race? That we will love one another and always show mutual respect for one another," he said.
Dozens of speakers, educators, ministers, entertainers, politicians, addressed the audience. Several, like Robert Muhammad, spoke of black suffering during last month's hurricanes along the American Gulf Coast. Mr. Muhammad brought a message from the poor people of New Orleans. "The heroes and the sheroes-not evacuees and refugees-but heroes and sheroes, who suffered near death experiences, chest-high water standing on the roofs while helicopters flew by to pick up white people and left our people on the roofs," he said.
The gathering on a warm and bright autumn day was a mixture of fiery rhetoric, celebration and commitment. In the festive crowd was Stacy Thornton who had come with her mother from Los Angeles, California. "My biggest issue is the unification of black Americans within themselves. Because we can't really deal with any issue on the outside of anything until we come together as one and then approach it as a unified front," she said.
After greetings of solidarity from leaders of Cuba and Jamaica, the head of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, flanked by bodyguards, descended the steps of the Capitol to close the event. He said he was convinced a national movement of black people is being built. "We have seen an unprecedented number of black leaders of organizations coming together to speak America and the world with one voice. This has never happened before in our history," he said.
Mr. Farrakhan said the represents a new day for black people in the United States.