Just before 2:00 am, Saturday, October 15, 2005, about 25 people from the Black Men's Xchange (BMX), along w/ members of the larger Black family sponsored by the Martin Luther King Center For Non-Violence in Queens, boarded a capacity bus. Our destination? Washington, D.C., for the Millions More Movement, to support the CEO & Founder of BMX, Cleo Manago, selected by MMM organizers to speak at the historic rally.
We arrived in New Carrolton, Maryland somewhere around 7:00 am: anxious, excited, hungry, proud, weary. Upon exiting the bus, I began to reflect on my experience at the Million Man March 10 years ago. The first thing I noticed was the level of security deployed - prompted, no doubt, by post 9-11 fear & so-called Bush anti-terrorist activity. As we journeyed toward the U.S. Capitol, we were warmly greeted by the Fruit Of Islam (FOI). Their acknowledgment set the tone for a long & exciting day ahead.
Perhaps because 10 years ago it was a day of atonement, an event specifically focused towards the unity of Black men, the sense, or feeling, of urgency was missing. I was pleased by a large youth turnout. At the outset of his surprisingly short 75 minute presentation, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan noted about 50% of the crowd were young people. In fact, there was a distinct family atmosphere present - several generations - yet the picnic-like crowd was rather subdued, until hip hop artist Wyclef Jean took the stage & proceeded to rock the house, adding much needed energy to the event.
I vividly remember the Million Man March being held on a weekday. I eagerly attended w/ 15 Black & Latino men ranging in age from 25 to 75; activists, educators, volunteers, working class folk; bisexual, heterosexual, same gender-loving; most HIV-positive; some in recovery; Baptist, Christian, Muslim & spiritual brothers joined together through grace. When we reached the mall shortly before 8:00 am, it was announced almost one million men were already accounted for. Brothers from various parts of the world were greeting, hugging & smiling to each other: the love & intimacy was almost surreal.
The next day's Washington Post read: "400, 000 African-American Men March in DC."
Earlier in the week, we were dutifully informed BMX would be included as part of the "tapesty of unity" section of the rally. The MMM intended to showcase our cultural, political & social diversity. Included were various representatives from the Congressional Black Caucus, Malcolm X Grass Roots Movement, NAACP, National Bar Association, National Council of Negro Women, National Urbal League, New Black Panther Party & Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
As Cleo Manago graced the podium - joined by two members of AMASSI, Inc., the California-based, Cultural, Health & Wellness Center he serves as CEO & Founder - we cheered loudly, w/ pride. I listened intently as Cleo graciously thanked Farrakhan for his "seriousness about inclusion amongst all members of the Black family", offering his "perspective as a Black man, a same gender-loving Black man." Again, this was the first time a same gender-loving man of African descent presented at a national Black event.
Manago, dressed in dashiki & jeans, was brilliant, as he spoke to the need for "cultural affirmation courses, mental health & restoration intervention for Black people, because many of us need it." He went on to suggest we need "healing opportunities explicitly acknowledging our diversity, which would include same gender-loving sisters & brothers, non-religious folks, powerul women, people who are differently-abled physically, & others loyal to Black unity, life & success."
As Cleo continued, somebody in the group asked if Keith Boykin is going to speak. Earlier this week, I recieved an e-mail, in the form of a press release, stating a meeting took place between members of the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), the civil rights organization for LGBT people Boykin heads, along w/ Farrakhan, Willie Wilson, MMM National Director & other MMM organizers. According to the release, Farrakhan - his first time ever meeting w/ openly (!) gay & lesbian Blacks - after the tense 75 minute session, invited Boykin to speak.
Prior to this alleged meeting, an October 6 article in the Houston Voice - reprinted in the Washington Blade - entitled, "Farrakhan said to approve gay speaker for march. Millions More leaders may prefer 'separatist' representative. The article described BMX as a "controversial, all-male New York group that disputes the existence of Black gays." Ray Daniels, an NBJC spokesperson, said BMX was a separatist group that has denounced organizations like NBJC as stooges for the "white power structure."
In fact, just days before the rally, the NBJC offered to the MMM organizers a list of 10 openly gay & lesbian speakers to present, among them Angela Davis, E. Lynn Harris, Me'Shell N'Degeocello & Alice Walker. Ironically, Boykin was not on the list, yet a Washington Blade article reports Wilson blocked Boykin from speaking the day of the rally. Wilson empahatically denies the charge, saying Boykin was never told he'd speak at the rally. Did Boykin try to coerce the MMM into honoring his own agenda?
What I find troubling are recent weblogs of both Boykin & Jasmyne Connick, another NBJC member, who've resorted to 'outing' Black ministers they deem homophobic. A number of entries ask: "Is T.D. Jakes Gay?", "Is Eddie Long Gay?", "Is Willie Wilson Gay?" They're asking for the help of any gay & lesbian folk who have information about the alleged 'gayness' of these ministers.
How will the answer to these questions benefit Black people? And, who cares?
The NBJC is funded by white dollars & no (common) sense. As such, I question the autonomy of the NBJC, whose primary focus is on gay marriage, a class issue which doesn't resonate w/ the average Black homosexual, male or female. Furthermore, the gay white media, like their straight white counterparts, is invested in the destruction of the Black community, regardless of our sexual politics. The whole scenario smells holier than thou from over here - y'all know God don't like ugly.
Additional press reports are suggesting BMX, as an organization, was complicit in the so-called snub of Boykin, in an attempt to polarize the LGBT community. Nothing could be further from the truth. BMX has a solid, 20 -year relationship w/ the Nation of Islam (NOI) as a Black affirming entity. BMX made no demands on the MMM. BMX asked to be included, not as a condition, but as an opportunity to share a perspective in a rational manner amongst the entire Black family in a cultural context. BMX is invested in the transformation of Black life & was committed to attending the event whether or not Cleo Manago- who requested a SGL woman be present - spoke or not.
Are we controversial because we don't allow white people & their gay-identity policis to dictate our agenda? Are we controversial because we're not afraid to speak truth to power? Are we controversial because we are pro-Black, which is media manipulated as anti-white? Had Boykin spoken at the rally, we would've been the first to congratulate him: our mission employs diversity. Seems the MMM was not feeling him.
Finally, the MMM was not about Farrakhan, the NOI, or simply, another march. The MMM is about the liberation, mobilization, transformation & unification of Black people. Why? Black people are suffering all over the world. The disastrous aftermath of Hurricane Katrina exposed a white supremacist capitalist patriarchal system designed to exploit Black people wherever we exist. We need to assume responsibility for the health & wellness of our people. We need to take care of our people. We need to heal. Now.
Frederick Douglass said, "power never conceded anything w/ out a demand, it never has & it never will." Marcus Garvey said, "people who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it." James Baldwin said, "your crown has been bought & paid for, all you must do is wear it." I trust this experience serves as (another) wake-up call for the homoseuxal Black community, as well as the community at-large. We need to get our shit together - cause it stinks!
- mark j. tuggle
- harlem, usa
- same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. firstname.lastname@example.org.