Chad Dion Lassiter, 44, president of Black Men at Penn, University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice
I was fresh out of undergrad, coming from a historically black university, Johnson C. Smith University, when I went to the Million Man March in 1995. I thought that the call was necessary given what was happening at that time with the breakdown of the black family and police brutality against black men.
There were Muslim women making salat for a peaceful journey, and there were Christian women anointing our heads with oil for protection. They were holding on to us, kissing us, and saying they loved us. A lot of people were fearful because they didn't know what to expect. Not because of us, but because of a government that has a history of tyranny and oppressive behavior toward blacks when they unite or speak truth to power.
The march was an amazing moment, because it was black men of all faiths and non-faiths from all around the globe who were united in their humanity to transcend their communities and themselves. The message was manifold. It was about cleaning up our community, not standing in trash and talking trash. It was about economic justice, personal responsibility, accountability, a message of peace, self-determination, and a message of respecting the women in our community.
What impacted me the most was seeing black and brown men hugging, high-fiving, and crying. Sharing their pain and vulnerability and their plans to change themselves and their communities. It was such a God-inspired moment.
It was very inspiring against the backdrop of the media, which attempted to whitewash the numbers of attendees but also suggested that there would be conflict. This was a moment to atone to our communities, our families, and our children. Moreover, it was peaceful throughout.
After the march, which wasn't given much credit, there was an increase in mentoring; you saw an increase in programs that dealt with instilling in boys and men a moral compass and dealt with value clarifications. More black and brown people were owning their own businesses.
It was very surreal and very spiritual. I'm getting choked up just thinking about it. You saw brothas there with two sons, three sons, four sons. It was love on public display. I'll never forget heading to the Mall and women handing us water, Gatorade, nuts, and fruits, telling us they loved us. I don't know this sista from D.C., but she loves me. She sees my humanity.