WASHINGTON, Oct. 16--Five years after the Million Man March broughthundreds of thousands of African-Americans to the nation's capital in a vivid show of racial unity and pride, its pro-family successor attracted a raciallyand religiously diverse crowd Monday to the National Mall.
The Million Family March, sponsored by Minister Louis Farrakhan'sNation of Islam and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Family Federation forWorld Peace and Unification (Unification Church), brought people from across the country andacross the religious spectrum for a day of speakers, ceremonies andprayer.
"We may have come in as many," Farrakhan told the crowd, "but I praythat God will allow us to go out as one."
Shani Muhammad, 22, a member of the Nation of Islam dressed in along, white flowing outfit with matching headpiece, attended with herhusband and 15-month-old daughter.
"The main problem with this country, with this world, is we have adegradation of our families," said Muhammad, of Oakland, Calif., as shesat on the Mall. "We can't make the world better without starting withthe smallest unit."
Minister Benjamin Muhammad, national director of the Million FamilyMarch, outlined the 150-page agenda that march organizers created tohighlight the public policy issues of concern of people from a widevariety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. The agenda includes politicaland economic empowerment, civil rights, racial profiling, policebrutality, juvenile justice, and prison reform.
"We're here today to discuss atonement as a prescription for moraland spiritual renewal," said Muhammad, formerly the Rev. BenjaminChavis, president of the National Association for the Advancement ofColored People.
"The Million Family March is God-centered."
The Rev. Chang Shik Yang, co-chairman of the march and ahigh-ranking official of Moon's federation, called for "all the walls"of race and religion to be torn down.
"Color is meaningless," he said. "All human beings are brothers andsisters in front of God."
Moon did not attend the rally.
The mix of Farrakhan and Moon followers includedmembers of the crowd using strikingly similar language about theimportance of family and unity in believing in God.
"We all might call God a different name, but we're all here for theuplift of the family," said Tamika Muhammad, a Nation of Islam memberwho was accompanied by her husband, Karim, and 2-year-old daughter,Tasha.
The sprinkling of white Unification Church members who sat on chairsand blankets among the mostly black crowd included some who spokeeffusively of Farrakhan.
"I'm not really familiar with the Nation of Islam, but if LouisFarrakhan is really sincere about interracial, international harmony,that's what we believe in most strongly," said Jack Jewell, 45, a memberof the Unification Church from Dumont, N.J. "And anybody who believes inthat, we support."
Yulian Marianov, 30, a student of theology at the UnificationTheological Seminary in Barrytown, N.Y., said he paid little attentionto Farrakhan's past anti-Semitic and anti-white statements.
"I don't mind what Farrakhan has said in the past--what'simportant is what he is doing in the present," said Marianov, who wasraised Eastern Orthodox in Bulgaria. "All political leaders shouldrealize the narrow-mindedness has to stop, and start doing whatFarrakhan is doing today."
Archbishop George A. Stallings, founder of the African AmericanCatholic Congregation, an organization that broke away from the RomanCatholic Church, compared Farrakhan to the father of a family whosemembers may not always agree with him but whose words they still heed.
"Don't concentrate on the man," he said. "Look at the mission.... Accept the challenge to become one family."
The daylong event opened with a call to prayer that included Arabicchants, English translations, and Native American prayers and dancing.Standing beneath the U.S. Capitol, the sounds of the speakers waftedacross the Mall via Jumbotrons and an extensive speaker system.
Those attending, some clad in blue jeans and others clothed informal religious garb, settled along the grassy expanse between theCapitol and the Lincoln Memorial as they listened to a range of speakersthat included actress Cicely Tyson, activist C. Delores Tucker, andcomedian-activist Dick Gregory.
Though the crowd was thickest near the Capitol, attendance numberedfar less than the hundreds of thousands who filled the Mall for the 1995Million Man March that focused more on African-American men.
But whether the crowd numbered one million or 10,000 was of littleconsequence for marchers like Terri Lane of Manassas, Va.
"It's not the numbers that's important," said Lane, who brought her6-year-old son Jay to the event. "What's more important is the message."
That message of family pride and unity is one Richard Weldon, acounselor at a residential program for troubled youth in Washington,D.C., hoped the march would drive home for the four teenagers he tookwith him to the event.