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Numerous Challenges Still for Black Men

October 14, 2005|From Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — The epiphany came to P. Jesus Patrick a decade ago in Washington as he stood shoulder to shoulder amid a sea of black men at the Million Man March.

He was not the only young black man whose father had chosen drugs over family. He was not the only one who had dabbled in drug dealing and car thievery, not the only one who felt lost in a life riddled with struggle.

And men like him who wanted to change their lives surrounded him.

Patrick, then a college junior, raised his right hand with theirs and pledged to improve for "myself, my family and my people ... so help me God."

In the years that followed, he graduated from college, became a schoolteacher, got married, and, for his three sons, grew to be the kind of father he never had.

Today, he will ride a bus from Chicago to Washington to take part in the Millions More Movement, a rally on Saturday marking the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March.

The movement, endorsed by parties as diverse as rapper Kanye West, the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Congressional Black Caucus, is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people who were too young to take part in the original or were tuned elsewhere in 1995.

It also will include men like Patrick, who plan to return to Washington -- some with their wives, sons and daughters -- hoping to rekindle a spirit of brotherhood and highlight the social disparities crippling African American advancement.

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, speaking in Washington on Thursday, said he wanted the gathering on the National Mall to be the start of a long-range movement to empower minorities.

"We're tired of begging others to do for us what we have the capacity to pool our resources -- intellectually and financially -- to do for ourselves," Farrakhan said at the National Press Club. "We will make demands from our government, but we know those demands will fall on deaf ears unless and until we are mobilized, sensitized and extremely organized."

Critics have charged that for all the rhetoric and spectacle surrounding the Million Man March, not much changed for the masses of black men once their buses returned home.

Henry Abraham, a Chicago minister who tells his own story of drug dealing and redemption, didn't march in 1995, but he remembers it looking good on television: all those black men standing on the National Mall, proud and optimistic under a bright autumn sky.

When they returned, he became mentor to some of them.

"I remember when the brothers came back. They were gung-ho, ready to do something," recalled Abraham, 45. "But everybody was lost when they got back."

Now, on the cusp of another march, Abraham doesn't see much point in attending.

Patrick said the original march was less about statistical changes and more about personal transformation, something not easily captured by census figures or TV cameras.

And as he watches his students struggle with problems he knows all too well -- fatherless families, incarcerated relatives, low self-esteem -- he feels the need to strengthen himself so that he may lift them up the way he felt lifted in 1995.

"Change is possible," said Patrick, 31, in his third-floor classroom at Florence B. Price Elementary School in the North Kenwood suburb of Chicago. "Going back is my testimony to that."

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