Youth Radio: Mixed Signals from Millions More
ED GORDON, host:
This weekend's march drew lots of people who didn't attend the Million Man March a decade ago. Youth Radio's Anyi Howell is 22 years old. He's waited 10 years to attend an event like this one. He says the movement came at a moment when he sees increasing division among his peers.
Ten years ago, when I was 12, I remember the Million Man March on television in San Francisco and wishing I was there in DC. I remember feeling amazed because I hadn't seen that many black people in one place on TV since the LA riots. Even at a young age, I understood the importance of the march being televised to combat the stereotype that African-Americans couldn't gather in peace. That stereotype still exists.
Later when I saw stories about the Million March Man in the news, I was upset because most of the headlines about the event highlighted the unachieved attendance goal instead of information about the speakers and topics. That didn't matter to me. I felt like the march was a million strong because of people like me who couldn't attend, but were there in spirit, watching from home.
This year I traveled to DC to be part of the Millions More in attendance. This focus of this march had been broadened to include women, youth, Latinos and indigenous people, as blacks are certainly not the only ones who have fallen victim to the historically tyrannical American government. While I feel the unity of black men still needs strengthening, it felt powerful being in the presence of a large sample of the disenfranchised American community, all supporting each other and taking on the power structure. I was expecting the march to be like a church barbecue, where even though everyone's mind may not be open, their hearts are. I, like many members of the black community, feel like we're easily pitted against each other based on differences like skin tone, sex, age or area of residence. I've seen it happen to many friends who are already on thin ice, and I've heard too many stories of silly arguments turning to violence. I know of fights that have started because someone glanced at someone else for 12 seconds too long.
I was having a conversation with someone at the march about marginalized blacks and misplaced anger. We talked about how a lot of black-on-black violence is carried out by individuals angry enough to kill, but not necessarily fatally angry at the person standing in front of them. You can use another black man as a outlet for your anger because you know that society will not miss this brother and that his murder will not be thoroughly investigated. There's a document I read growing up about a speech supposedly made by a white slave owner that gave strategies to keep blacks under control by keeping them divided. While this history is debated, the words have been out there, and I believe they're relevant because of how deeply entrenched that divided mentality seems to be sometimes.
I think I represent one of the first lines of defense against this mentality. I've grown up knowing the streets of San Francisco Bay area and how easy it is to get lost in the justifiable anger that we feel as young black men. But I also have a strong intellectual network that supports critical thinking, and that's what helped bring me to the march. In my community at home, aside from helping young people learn how to produce media in a society where news coverage is skewed against us, I try to coordinate events that will serve the community, like forums on police-youth relations. Like myself 10 years ago, I'm sure there were young people watching the march who couldn't completely capture the feeling in DC. I hope to bring back home to them the sense that a radical change is in the near future. The march let me know that I'm on the right path, but that I need to amplify my efforts and get those friends on thin ice to deviate from self-hatred and focus on the community as a whole and move toward self-reliance.
For NPR News, I'm Anyi Howell.
GORDON: That story was produced by Youth Radio.
This is NPR News.
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