WASHINGTON, Oct. 16--Five years after the Million Man March brought hundreds 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 racially and religiously diverse crowd Monday to the National Mall.
The Million Family March, sponsored by Minister Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), brought people from across the country and across the religious spectrum for a day of speakers, ceremonies and prayer.
"We may have come in as many," Farrakhan told the crowd, "but I pray that God will allow us to go out as one."
Shani Muhammad, 22, a member of the Nation of Islam dressed in a long, white flowing outfit with matching headpiece, attended with her husband and 15-month-old daughter.
"The main problem with this country, with this world, is we have a degradation of our families," said Muhammad, of Oakland, Calif., as she sat on the Mall. "We can't make the world better without starting with the smallest unit."
Minister Benjamin Muhammad, national director of the Million Family March, outlined the 150-page agenda that march organizers created to highlight the public policy issues of concern of people from a wide variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. The agenda includes political and economic empowerment, civil rights, racial profiling, police brutality, juvenile justice, and prison reform.
"We're here today to discuss atonement as a prescription for moral and spiritual renewal," said Muhammad, formerly the Rev. Benjamin Chavis, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"The Million Family March is God-centered."
The Rev. Chang Shik Yang, co-chairman of the march and a high-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 and sisters in front of God."
Moon did not attend the rally.
The mix of Farrakhan and Moon followers included members of the crowd using strikingly similar language about the importance of family and unity in believing in God.
"We all might call God a different name, but we're all here for the uplift of the family," said Tamika Muhammad, a Nation of Islam member who was accompanied by her husband, Karim, and 2-year-old daughter, Tasha.
The sprinkling of white Unification Church members who sat on chairs and blankets among the mostly black crowd included some who spoke effusively of Farrakhan.
"I'm not really familiar with the Nation of Islam, but if Louis Farrakhan is really sincere about interracial, international harmony, that's what we believe in most strongly," said Jack Jewell, 45, a member of the Unification Church from Dumont, N.J. "And anybody who believes in that, we support."
Yulian Marianov, 30, a student of theology at the Unification Theological Seminary in Barrytown, N.Y., said he paid little attention to Farrakhan's past anti-Semitic and anti-white statements.
"I don't mind what Farrakhan has said in the past--what's important is what he is doing in the present," said Marianov, who was raised Eastern Orthodox in Bulgaria. "All political leaders should realize the narrow-mindedness has to stop, and start doing what Farrakhan is doing today."
Archbishop George A. Stallings, founder of the African American Catholic Congregation, an organization that broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, compared Farrakhan to the father of a family whose members 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 Arabic chants, English translations, and Native American prayers and dancing. Standing beneath the U.S. Capitol, the sounds of the speakers wafted across the Mall via Jumbotrons and an extensive speaker system.
Those attending, some clad in blue jeans and others clothed in formal religious garb, settled along the grassy expanse between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial as they listened to a range of speakers that included actress Cicely Tyson, activist C. Delores Tucker, and comedian-activist Dick Gregory.
Though the crowd was thickest near the Capitol, attendance numbered far less than the hundreds of thousands who filled the Mall for the 1995 Million Man March that focused more on African-American men.
But whether the crowd numbered one million or 10,000 was of little consequence for marchers like Terri Lane of Manassas, Va.
"It's not the numbers that's important," said Lane, who brought her 6-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, a counselor at a residential program for troubled youth in Washington, D.C., hoped the march would drive home for the four teenagers he took with him to the event.
"A lot of these kids come from broken homes," Weldon said. "It's important for them to see how positive families interact. A lot of these kids think it could never happen for them, but now they can see that a strong black family is a reality."
Farrakhan criticized those who allow differences to become divisions, telling the crowd that "we have allowed what makes us different to become a badge of honor or a badge of shame."
"Whenever you start thinking you are better because of some characteristic that sets you apart from someone else, this is the beginning of a satanic mind," Farrakhan said. "It's not your race, it's not your color, it's not your creed. The thing that makes one human being better than another is our duty to God and our righteous conduct."
Near the end of his two-hour address, Farrakhan focused on the need to continue the themes of the march in the communities and families of those attending.
And, with the assistance of other religious leaders, he held a blessing ceremony for couples. Couples in formal attire stood side-by-side, with many women holding bouquets, as soul singer James Ingram serenaded them.
"We ask that you put God at the center of your family life," Farrakhan said. "And make God the head of your house."