Paradox: Remembering the Million Man March/Day of Absence On Its Twentieth Anniversary

I was 21 years old, 20 years ago, on October 16th 1995.

That was the day of the Million Man March/Day of Absence.

In what I named “solidarity,” I refrained from attending class.  I was a solid student.  Mostly.  So I doubt any of my professors batted an eye.  Besides, almost half of the campus had boarded buses to DC so there was little of the typical foot traffic seen by HBCU campuses at that time of year–somewhere around midterms and homecoming and still warm enough on the East coast to be “out.”

I also refused to go to the part time cashier job I had just started at the Sears department store in the mall.  It was a job I kept for an entire week.  I quit that day in October because as I told my supervisor when I called to explain my absence, I didn’t “plan to come in ‘that day’ –or ever.”

The rhyme and the reason were as thin as my “solidarity.”

As I put it, I didn’t see “the point anymore” (I know, it was only a week and hardly every day of it).  Besides, I was on scholarship and didn’t feel like “dressing the part” as described by my supervisor.  She didn’t find “professional” my work wardrobe which may have included my favorite vintage orange bell bottomed Adidas jogging pants. I was artist/activist in my head.  And this job’s constraints were not moving me along that trajectory.  Because, seriously, a part time job in college should move you along your life’s caree–…yeah, so.

Surely being 21 years old had more to do with that day’s decisions than any of that other stuff I wrote (and believed, make no mistake about that).  And I’m still as  unapologetic and definitive in my choices (okay, stubborn depending on who you ask) but humored and intrigued by them too.

21 is an age of mystery, possibility, magic, foolishness.  Uncertain as we all are at that age, we still believe in it all and probably the hyper disappointment we suffer over breakups, D’s, and bad cafeteria food is not hyper at all but a byproduct of being 21.  the-million-man-march anthologySince we stay high (figuratively speaking folks, but yeah, literally for some) our falls can be hard.

As it turned out in my African American literature curriculum the following semester one of our texts was the commemorative anthology about the MMM/DOA.  I was forced to take a critical look at it, my role in it, and the brothers’ roles too.

Turns out the brothers’ rhymes and reasons were thin as mine had been.  In the immediate, the brothers (at least the ones who were my peers) were still the brothers and the realization brought me down hard off my high.  So I wrote about one of the brothers I knew.  He was supposed to be on one of the buses.  Promptly got off, left his feel good in his seat to stick close to home and witness the birth of his baby girl, CNN’s broadcast of the day in the background.  Then he proceeded on to 21 and 22 and so on almost as if she didn’t exist.

20 years later I’m probably still no less critical of the folks and the event.  The brother in my poem went on to be 25 and 30 and so on and in those years got his shit together.  I, on the other hand, only gave up the Adidas pants once they frayed.  I own my decisions.  {read: I’m stubborn}.

History doesn’t always give us all the opportunity it gave the brother. Or me.  Intention is only part of the equation–me and bruh’s intentions were sincere I suppose.  But October 17th and and 20th and October 16th 2000 and 2014?  That’s where history really wrote itself.  This is what I wrote 20 years ago.  Bless my fiery little heart.  Yet here 20 years later I’m almost surprised that unlike a few things that felt so important to me (the orange Adidas pants; man I miss them puppies) I still stick by it: rhetoric is as intangible as ever.  Can we get something else?

PARADOX: CASE STUDY OF THE MILLION MAN MARCH/ DAY OF ABSENCE

intelligence slips out every time he spouts
a successful pick-up line.
it’s the appeal that steals women’s
better judgment,
sloughs it off with bedroom eyes—
hazy, dilated pupils.
theorizing
about realities otherwise too painful to reveal,
about being a daddy
since almost becoming
one success story of a million
(barely before the million had gathered).
welcomed her into the world
with the fanfare of 26 sleepless hours,
giddy and chewing bubble gum cigars
for a sugar high to get through a cnn broadcast
of a million men gathered three states over.
passed the day with nods of approval
to the t.v., her and mother sleeping peacefully.
the very next day
he walked away with the scent of placenta
barely off his hands
the rhetoric of affirmation and atonement
sweet and sticky on his lips.
since then, he’s been
if he sees himself in her cheeky toothless smile,
big dark eyes,
if the rhetoric turns tangible
in formula cans and pampers.
he decides
you can’t touch rhetoric.

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One thought on “Paradox: Remembering the Million Man March/Day of Absence On Its Twentieth Anniversary

  1. Reblogged this on Under the Radar and commented:

    “welcomed her into the world
    with the fanfare of 26 sleepless hours,
    giddy and chewing bubble gum cigars
    for a sugar high to get through a cnn broadcast
    of a million men gathered three states over.
    passed the day with nods of approval
    to the t.v., her and mother sleeping peacefully…”

    Like

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