It seems like yesterday I was boarding a bus with several classmates at New York City Technical College in Brooklyn. Our destination: The Million Man March in Washington, D.C. I had no idea what I would encounter. However, there was a feeling deep inside of me compelling me to go. I knew history was going to be made and I wanted to be a part of it. I needed to know if I was a great man in the making. Or if I was what society had labeled me: A poor inner city black boy with no future and nothing to offer my country or the world.
The evening news repeatedly reported how law enforcement agencies in Washington, D.C. were taking extra precautions. Still with all this ringing in my head I did as my mother instructed me: I said my prayers, put my fears aside and rode on faith.
I will never forget the day that changed my life. In one afternoon I went from being a frightened boy to a determined young man. I have fond memories of the love and support and genuine concern shown to me from complete strangers. There were men from all walks of life and every corner of this country embracing me, accepting me, encouraging me. We shared a common bond that would connect us for life. And on that day 18 years ago we atoned for past behaviors and pledged to begin loving ourselves, our families and our communities.
I returned to Brooklyn believing that I could achieve anything. I accepted the challenges presented to me by the elders that day. Their pearls of wisdom would follow me into adulthood. Their shared wisdom helped to shape my development. I was determined to succeed, to avoid drugs or the legal system. I vowed not to father any children before marriage and that I absolutely had to get my college degree.
Since the Million Man March, I have experienced great victories and a few defeats. But I continued to move forward striving, no, demanding excellence of myself. What I learned at the Million Man March was that I was undeniably valuable. I learned that I came from a long line of great men and equally great women who triumphed over inconceivable obstacles and that I had to rise up beyond my circumstances and take ownership of myself and my destiny.
The Million Man March occurred 18 years ago. However, it planted a seed in me that continues to grow. What I learned that day inspired and motivated me to graduate college, take ownership of my finances and to support and love my family and community.
I was overjoyed to twice vote for this nation’s first African American president. Whenever I hear President Obama speak, I’m reminded of the march.