While thousands gathered Saturday afternoon on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to recognize the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, a shiny black hearse moved slowly east along Linwood Boulevard in Kansas City.
From behind the hearse, the thunderous sound of drums erupted into the street as Kansas City’s Marching Cobras, followed by a small contingent of residents, marched against violence.
Marchers walked from a parking lot at the intersection of Linwood and Prospect Avenue about a mile to the Central Academy of Excellence football field. Along the way, the crowd grew to about 100 participants in their “1,000 Man March” organized by several anti-violence organizations, including Daddy’s on Duty and AIM 4 Peace.
The Kansas City march was put together to talk about the rise in violence and increased gun-related deaths in Kansas City.
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“We are trying to save lives out here,” said Pat Clarke, one of the community activists who organized the event. “I’m tired of going to fish fries and car washes raising money for the families of kids gunned down in this city.”
Clarke said he didn’t mind that his march hadn’t brought out 1,000 men on Saturday: “This isn’t about a thousand men; it is about men all over this country raising good men.”
He said residents must speak out against violence in their neighborhoods and “when they see something, say something. That’s not being a snitch. Maybe if we march together, some of them will get the message.”
Later another group, led by Bishop John Birmingham of Harvest Connection Ministries, gathered at 35th Street and Prospect carrying pictures of several young people killed in Kansas City this year.
“We didn’t just march, we prayed,” Birmingham said. “We are going to take our city back from all this violence and save our children. The more out here marching, the merrier.”
At the football field, a group of men rolled a gray casket from the rear of the hearse and, like pallbearers, carried it to a makeshift stage.
“I’ve had three nephews lie in a casket just like this,” said Jamal Shakur, a member of Aim 4 Peace. The group, he said, works to cure violence.
“Violence is like a communicable disease,” Shakur told the gathering. “It spreads from one person to the next person to the family to the whole community. We are not going to allow it anymore. We are killing each other for no reason.”
Kansas City has seen 79 homicides so far this year. That number was 59 at the same time a year ago. The problem is particularly pronounced among the city’s African-American population.
Shakur, who works for the Kansas City Health Department, said that “each year approximately 100 Kansas City residents are killed by someone or themselves in gun violence. And 63 percent of the gun killings are black.”
The killing of young black men was also addressed by speakers talking to the throng at the nation’s capital, where the focus was on the deaths of unarmed black men since the shootings of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012 in Florida and 18-year-old Michael Brown last year in Ferguson, Mo.
In 1995, the Million Man March called by the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan in conjunction with leading civil rights groups drew close to a million men to stand at the National Mall, pray, sing, speak and bring attention to social disparities — economic and educational — in the black community.
Quinton Lucas, Kansas City’s 3rd District at-large councilman, was 12 years old then. On Saturday, he called on those gathered at the field to “think about how we can all make a difference. Go home and tell your families about this. I want you all to touch 10,000 people or more.”
Faheem Collins, a 12-year-old from Grandview, stepped to the microphone and declared: “Some people just don’t seem to want peace. … I just want the violence to stop.”