The first Million Man March took place in October of 1995. Several people from Grand Rapids attended that march. This interview, reposted from the Indy newspaper The FUNdamentalist, was conducted with one of the Grand Rapids organizers, Kashaka Kikelomo.
Kashaka – I’ll do the best I can considering I am not an official spokesperson for the march or for Minister Louis Farrakan or anybody else involved. For me, based on everything I have read on it, what the most important aspects of the march are atonement and reconciliation. That strikes me as being of particular importance, as a Black man, because I think there is a need to reconcile, to reconcile with one another. It’s about Black men getting past the whole ingrained concept of self-hate and moving on to self-love. We have to work together in order to move forward. With a day of atonement, we atone for our lack of leadership, lack of direction, lack of hard work to lift up the Black community and atoning to Black women for the burden that they carry unnecessarily, because we have not done what was necessary as Black males.
Not just myself and my generation, but throughout the 400 years in America we have seen countless examples of Black women who have stood in the face of adversity and taken on the challenges. Not to belittle Black men, because we have fought the good fight, but the direction, the struggle and the way we have struggled has not been the way we should have.
This whole day will be about atonement for what we have done and haven’t done. Hopefully we can begin anew and create something different and whole. So this march is for me an opportunity to start anew with brothers in Grand Rapids and myself and begin to look at the problems differently and attack the problems differently.
Jeff – What kind of response have you had from Black men in Grand Rapids, as far as interest in participating in the march?
Kashaka – Interest has been high. I mean people have been interested, but they have not carried that to the next level. We have found people who are interested, but say they have to work that day or have another commitment. Perhaps my judgement is harsh, but if you have an interest in this and believe in it, it is something that you should make a commitment to. However, there is a solid group of us who are committing to it and will be there. We also found that a lot of brothers didn’t even know about it. They didn’t have the information about the march soon enough to make a decision to go.
Kashaka – Actually, the whole idea of Black self-empowerment is a demonstration against White Supremacy. That is at the core of what we are dealing with. Yes, the march is attacking that, but we realize that until we empower ourselves we’ll forever be under the thumb of White Supremacist thought and action.
Jeff – Can you elaborate a bit more about what you said earlier in regards to Black men atoning for what they have done to Black women. Some people have raised concerns about this issues, since Black women aren’t invited to the march.
Kashaka – I would first say to those who question why Black men are coming together to march for any purpose, I would say to them, question us if you question the purpose and reason for the Promise Keepers. Then you can question perhaps our reason for coming together, but until you do that don’t question what we are doing. I see the racism, the unfairness involved in that question itself. Promise Keepers can come together and meet, but when Black men come together and meet I think it is frightening to America, both Black and White America. People seem to have a need to question this as a means to destroy it. The reason we are coming together is because there are things that are particular to us. As men, we have not done as much as we could have and should have to address the issues that concern Black people and that is not to exclude Black women. To further this we have to be realistic. I am cognizant of the fact that this is a patriarchal society. Now, I have to deal with the world as it is not as it should be. As Black men we have been and are enemies of White men, because of how this system is structured, this White Supremacist system.
Those who are in control, largely White men, are enemies to Black men who want to control their own destinies. Because if Black men controlled their own destiny then White men cannot use Black men to suit their needs and for their gains. We have to, as men, develop and design particular strategies that are realistic and that address that very real fact that this is a patriarchal society. There are pressures placed upon us that we and only we can come together to solve. Now there are Black women who believe in what we are doing, support what we are doing and are involved in the organizing of the event. Black women are not left out, because we are asking them to not go to work the day of the march, to stay home the day of the march, to keep children home the day of the march.
As well, we are asking Black me to stay home the day of the march, those who cannot attend. We want people to see this as a holy day, to pray, to study, to ask for strength and understanding. So it doesn’t exclude Black women, but we are dealing with a reality that this is a patriarchal society and we as men have to address particular concerns. So, our atonement is not is not so much what we have done to women, but what haven’t we done. I mean we are facing the fact that 60% of the heads of Black families are female. That should not happen no matter what system we live under. It is out responsibility to be men, to find a way to lead productive lives, to care for our children, to be mates to the women, and so we, to a large degree, have not done that. That is the responsibility we have to take.
Jeff – Brining it back on a more local level, what would you say are some of the more pressing issues that face the Black community in Grand Rapids?
Kashaka – One of the more pressing issues that face the Black community is that Black folks have been a part of this paternalistic system so long that we don’t even recognize what the issues are. We don’t recognize that we are faced with racism, stifling racism, with economic oppression, and we don’t we just don’t recognize that. We are also fearful of what might happen to us if we speak out against it. We go along to get along, because we are afraid of the repercussions. So when we look at drugs in the Black community, it is not a moral issues, it is an economic issue at the core. If Black men, young Black men had opportunities for employment, had proper education, I doubt very seriously that they would be out selling drugs. We are not born criminals, this system makes criminals.
Another pressing issue is the lack of education. Our kids go to school to learn how to be consumers. They learn to be secondary citizens. We allow this to happen in our school system. We should teach our children not to be consumers, but producers. We should teach our children the true history of Africans, not only in America, but in the world. We should instill in our young people the understanding that they come from a great legacy of achievers and have an even greater legacy yet to be fulfilled. It goes back to the system that has been designed to take proud strong Africans to what you see in the making today, a people who are not aware of who they are, and in fact have been taught to hate themselves and each other.
It has worked extremely well. We have not designed anything to counteract that as a group. We don’t have a local policy. We allow the problems to be defined as drugs, teenage pregnancy and alcoholism. What happens then is that we are defined as the problem, instead of attacking the root problem, which is White Supremacy. A system that allows one people to control the world’s resources and dictate their thought, culture and desires on the rest of the world.
Jeff – Some people in Grand Rapids, in fact many people I believe, would say that Grand Rapids really isn’t a very racist city. How do you respond to that?
Kashaka – I would say there is really no way for you to understand what Grand Rapids does to people of color, unless you were somehow able to live in my skin, even for just a short while. Sure, Grand Rapids has been a place that if you want food, there is a place to eat; if you need clothes, there is a place to go. It is very responsible in that way. I think it is the Dutch/Christian ethic. However, on the other hand the approach is very paternalistic; that whole notion of teaching a person to fish and you feed them for a lifetime, that doesn’t exist here in reality. In that sense it is very racist, because very often we are looked as people who cannot do for self. A lot of that giving stems from this attitude. To me that is racist itself. That whole idea and attitude that we are somehow less capable. I have been living and working in this city for 10 years and yet I still have to deal with the perception that I am somehow not as intelligent as others. Grand Rapids has some particular elements of racism that manifest themselves in numerous ways, particularly in the quality of life, or lack of it, that people live.
Jeff – By way of conclusion, what would you suggest as strategies to overcome some of these issues and are there things in the works that are doing that in Grand Rapids?
Kashaka – I think there are things in the works because there is the beginning of a new attitude here in the Black community. One of the positive signs is that we see more Black owned businesses. We have to build up the economy in the Black community and we cannot rely on anybody else to do it. There is also a movement to start an Afrocentric school and I think that is a necessity. I think we need to begin to educate our children to think of themselves differently. That is a movement of young people who are committed to the struggle, who are becoming more vocal and organized. Given some of those factors we are going to see a difference. I am hopeful.
There is one more thing I wanted to say about racism in Grand Rapids, something that is more concrete. Look at the southeast and southwest sides of Grand Rapids, where most of the Black and Hispanic communities live. Look at how people in power address and approach them. There is an inherent fear of the southeast side on the part of White citizens in Grand Rapids, for the most part. It is assumed that the southeast side is a bad side, that the schools and the neighborhoods are bad. People often say that without a second thought. They generally say this without an empirical evidence that this is in fact true. I’m not saying there are not pockets where poverty is extreme and crime is high, but that does say that because there are pockets of it here that there are not pockets of it on the other side of town. But the perception is never that.
When you look at major businesses on the southeast side you see it is almost non-existent. There is no investment in the southeast side of town. Why not? There is a willing and able labor force. What rationale can you give me that will ring true and honest? It’s racist, bottom line. We can build up the downtown, or other areas of the city. They can build up outlining areas, like Walker and Kentwood, but it is not happening on the southeast side or the southwest side, where Black and Hispanic people live. We don’t control the economics. To answer the question about racism in Grand Rapids all you have to do is open your eyes and take a good look. But let us remember that racism is the visible residue of a system that has operated for centuries and that system is designed to allow a minority of the world’s population, those of European descent, to continue to control and utilize the world’s people and resources. This is the true problem, the root cause and it must first be stopped, before there is any reconciliation among all the people’s of the world. The Million Man March gives Black men and Black women a vehicle upon which to reconcile with one another, so that we may begin to see one another as we truly are, as God created us, in his wisdom and glory, and from there we can begin to develop a strategy to uplift our lives, our community and leave our children renewed hope and promise.