On Saturday, Alvin Brooks and I wore artifacts of more hopeful times as we stepped from the Linwood Shopping Center into the street during the 1,000 Real Man March of Kansas City.
Brooks, president of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners and a founder of the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime, had on a ball cap that said “Black Men Together.” That group made headlines more than 20 years ago for closing crack houses in Kansas City.
I had on a hooded sweatshirt that said “One Thousand Man March” on the front and pictured kids linked arm-in-arm on the back with the words “Tomorrow’s Future.” Tragically, we have lost our way.
I’d kept the sweatshirt from the 1,000 Man March in Kansas City 20 years ago. It followed the Million Man March on Oct. 16, 1995, in Washington, D.C., for atonement, reconciliation and responsibility. I expected to see others at Saturday’s march with sweatshirts from the first march, but there weren’t even 1,000 people at the event.
The midtown march coincided with the 20th anniversary Million Man March in Washington for “Justice or Else.” It was to bring needed attention to the 45 million people living in poverty in the richest country on earth, the disproportionately high black unemployment and incarceration rates and unarmed African Americans killed by police nationwide.
The midtown march coincided with the 20th anniversary Million Man March in Washington for “Justice or Else.” It was to bring needed attention to the 45 million Americans living in poverty, the disproportionately high black unemployment and incarceration rates and unarmed African Americans killed by police nationwide.
The Marching Cobras followed a hearse on the half-mile march to the Central Academy of Excellence football field. In the shopping center parking lot, march organizer Pat Clarke addressed black-on-black killings, saying: “Some of us are taking other people’s ending into our own hands. This is not just a march. This is a prevention. This is an opportunity to restore life to our children’s lives.” Clarke urged the crowd to become more engaged in steering young people in the right direction.
As we walked together, Brooks said events like the march are symbolic and are needed for solidarity. He was happy to see so many young people with us. They need the direction that adults should provide.
Brooks talked about the Black Lives Matter movement that sprang up after the Aug. 9, 2014, police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. “That’s a conscience pricking slogan,” Brooks said as he waved hello to a police officer on a motorcycle blocking traffic for the march.
But black people kill each other at in far greater numbers than police or whites do, Brooks said. Yet, people protest the deaths of African Americans by police.
“Why don’t we protest the killings of each other?” Brooks asked. “Who’s listening? Someone has to say something to pull together the conscience of the community.”
There are no easy answers, and the black community continues to suffer tremendous losses.
“Prayer vigils are a part of the healing process,” said Brooks, who has been a police officer, assistant city manager and city councilman. “But what happens after the healing? What happens after the march? What kind of follow-up is there? Where is our social conscience? Where are our 1,000 men? Where are the ministers? What’s happened to us? What’s happened to our morals?
At the football field, A casket was carried on stage. Someone shouted “Justice or else.”
Brooks said: “What does that mean, Lewis? Or else what?”
On the walk back, my partner Bette and I stopped at the Benton Community Garden. Brooks and Teresa Perry with the Kansas City NAACP branch caught up with us, and we talked about what’s taking place, slowly resulting in positive change.
The decades of flight from the city is reversing. Young people of all races are buying houses in the inner city for a few hundred dollars, fixing them up and turning them into homes.
Those are fabulous footsteps in a new march for stability, growth and renewal for the soul of the city and its people.