Julie Contras, the Commissioner for the League of United Latin Citizens and a member of La Familia United, speaks of the Minister Louis Farrakhan with sparkles in her eyes.
The Chicana woman talks about how the Nation of Islam leader came to her organization in Chicago, asking for their participation in this year's 20th Anniversary of the Million Man March, and emphasizing that she felt honored for the opportunity to speak to the women of his mosque.
"I was honored to be included in the Millions More March in 2005,” says Julie, referring to the tenth anniversary of the Million Man March a decade earlier. “We have seen the minister do the work that God has sent him, making (the march) become more inclusive and diverse."
Julia Contras attended the Justice or Else March at the National Mall on Saturday.
According to her, Minister Farrakhan is "the most powerful Black Man in America." And she's not alone in that sentiment. Thousands of people responded to the minister’s call for the march, descending on the Washington Monument in the nation’s capital just 48 hours before Columbus Day to demand Justice … or else, the theme of this year’s anniversary march.
But many people wondered about the march’s tagline, "Or else what?"
During his speech, Minister Farrakhan evoked religious imagery as he spoke to the surprisingly diverse audience about America's impending doom, which he says will occur if it continues to ignores its crimes against humanity.
In the past, the Nation of Islam sponsoring the march has had the reputation of being one of the more bold, unforgiving and alienating Black power movements.
The first Million Man March, which took place in 1995, requested that women stay home. Looking into this year's crowd, however proves how far Farrakhan has come in embracing inclusion, as well as the magnetic charm he seems to have despite being such a polarizing American political figure.
Indeed, only he could lead a march where the Islamic Call to prayer is followed by the smash Christian gospel hit "Break Every Chain." Even non-religious Blacks found themselves agreeing with many of the minister’s sentiments.
An Afro-Cuban practitioner of the Yoruba spirituality who goes by the name “Black Jezus” made his way to D.C. with the New Black Panthers all the way from Miami.
An Afro-Cuban Yoruba practioner holds a sign condemning racist violence against Blacks in Florida.
"I'm here to support my people and the cause, regardless of what they may be, Black Muslim, Hebrew Israelites, or Black Christians,” he said. “I myself am standing here for my Yoruba people, and to unite all my people together."
A group of young Black and Latino high schoolers traveled all the way from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to be part of this historic moment as well.
Black and Latino teens from New Mexico pose in front of the White House after making their pilgrimage to the capital for the Million Man March anniversary.
Zavier Thompson, 15, missed class to see the minister speak."It means a lot to me to be here as a young black man. I think this is really going to change my life," he said.
Teenagers, senior citizens, babies and everyone in between sprawled out on the nation's capital showing a larger than expected turnout for the not very well publicized 20th Anniversary of the Million March, which is odd considering how much focus the media has given to the state of black lives amid scandals involving police brutality.
On Saturday "A Taste of DC," a food festival, was sealed off from the rest of the National Mall by a green chain link fence and occurred across the street from the Million Man March Anniversary Commemoration, while seemingly clueless white joggers ran their way to a nearby marathon.
Less Lettle, a tall Black man from Detroit, the birthplace of the Nation of Islam carried a worn American flag throughout the crowd, which drew many puzzled looks from his fellow demonstrators who were often critical of the United States and its traditional symbols. When asked about it, he replied he wanted to remind black folks that “we made this country and it's ours to keep.”
"We are Americans and we need to show it more,” he said. “Believe me, I can wave the red, black and green flag myself (a reference to the Pan-African flag) but I'm still red, white and blue … America has its identity because of the African-American experience."
The Million March looked like a Democratic Convention wet dream, with it's sea of minority voters of all genders and sexual orientation. But it would probably turn into any politician's nightmare once they realized that these groups were united by a common enemy: traditional American white supremacy.
It's no surprise, given the racial turmoil that has engulfed the states since unarmed teenage Trayvon Martin was racially-profiled and killed at the hands of vigilante George Zimmerman. Since that tragedy, it seems as if everyday a new person of color has lost their life at the hands of the United States government or by racist vigilantes. It has been a busy year for the topics of violence against minorities and per usual, Minister Farrakhan is willing to put his face on the big screen and shame the United States.
Aside from his slightly patriarchal comments towards the end in which he blatantly said women should wear concealing clothes to gain respect (which, many women present seemed willing to forgive Farrakhan for due to the fact that he is 82-years-old) various ethnicities and hyphenated nationalities from Palestinian refugees to Indigenous American activists got on stage and spoke on their grievances with the corrupt government of the United States.
And every complaint was met with roaring applause and chants in solidarity. The Nation of Islam’s leader has certainly grown wiser in his old age by making what started out as the Million Man March 20 years ago to become a more inclusive movement for all who face injustice. He also is using one of the oldest war tactics known to man. Make the enemies of your enemies your best friends.
Nia Hampton is a writer from Baltimore, Maryland, who is in love with South America and currently enrolled at the university of carefree Black girl.