UF students mark anniversary of Million Man March in D.C.

October 14, 2015
Desirae Lee
photographer: Desirae Lee

Desirae Lee, a sophomore journalism major, shares her thoughts on a journey she calls “an immense wake-up call, as well as a source of hope.”

‌This weekend I got the chance to attend the Million Man March 20th Anniversary: Justice or Else March on Capitol Hill with an amazing group of my peers from the University of Florida. Students represented a variety of organizations on campus including Black Student Union, Institute of Hispanic-Latino Cultures and Progressive Black Men Incorporated. Black Affaris director Veleashia Smith and program director P.J. Jones coordinated the three-day trip.

I was filled with excitement just to finally be Washington, D.C. The diversity of the city and the attendees was extremely refreshing. I felt a sense of belonging, and a sense of home even though I had never set foot anywhere near the D.C. metropolis.

On Friday we toured Howard University, the United States Capitol Building, visited the monuments of the National Mall and met with U.S. Representative Corrine Brown, a Gator from my hometown of Jacksonville. The group presented Brown with an orange and blue quilt representing her time spent in Gainesville.

Brown spoke on the importance of finding and maintaining a relationship with mentors and mentees. She also encouraged the students to always make the most of their lives by saying; “When you are born, you get a birth certificate, and when you die you get a death certificate. But that little dash in between is what you have done to make this a better place.”

Saturday started with a sunrise breakfast for the students and staff followed by a thought-provoking bus ride conversation to Capitol Hill. Smith made it a priority to keep students focused on the purpose of their journey, posing questions such as, “What are some of the civil rights issues that are happening in America?” and “In what ways can we make a difference?”

Attending this historic event was an immense wake-up call, as well as a source of hope. The march was a platform for several prominent figures including Sharon Cooper, the sister of Sandra Bland, Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, and leader of the Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan.

The original march was Inspired and led by Farrakhan in 1995. More than a million black men gathered in Washington, D.C., to declare their right to justice. The purpose then was for black men to take responsibility for their own actions and to help develop their own communities.

panoramic of the march attendees during speech

The minister called together the anniversary celebration and helped to organize the entire event. Farrakhan was once again the keynote speaker in the same place, for the same reasons. It was as if he were in some kind of deja vu time capsule from two decades prior, but with even more controversial issues to cover.

Students watched attentively as Farrakhan delivered his two-hour speech. He spoke on points such as women’s rights, the importance of historical education, and sacrifice: “What good is it to be alive and to continue to see people suffering? There must come a time when we say enough is enough. I am willing to do whatever it takes to bring about that change.”

We often forget how important we are as individuals, but it is the individual that makes up the masses. It is the single, solitary voice of one person in combination with millions that creates the rumbling chants of unity. I am now fully aware of my personal responsibilities and I can draw from this experience as a focal point for inspiration.

Throughout the trip, we were able to learn in a new environment, bond and rejuvenate our understanding of the social justice movement. I personally regained an intellectual focus on history, and was submerged in a healthy display of black excellence.

A motif that lingered over the crowd and throughout the speeches made was the emphasis placed on education of self and others, as well as creating an action plan. We all have different stories and qualities about ourselves that can contribute to the justice movement.

After the march, second year political science major Khyra Keely said; “I am excited to take this knowledge and experience back to Gainesville to start creating change in our own community, hopefully inspiring others all over to do the same.”

We must awaken whatever it is that excites us about movements such as this. Whether it be starting and hosting conversations which help to educate, or actually putting together and presenting speeches. For me, it is being able to capture and share personal experiences with the masses. I can only hope my words and images generate the feelings that I have been exposed to. 

It was an honor to capture the people that were part of this historic event.

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