The 1995 Million Man March spawned several other marches and mass gatherings, such as the Million Mom March, the Million Families March and others.
For Philadelphia, however, the most influential spinoff may very well be the Million Father March.
Now in its fifth year, the MFM is designed to get fathers more involved in their children’s scholastic lives, by coaxing fathers to not only walk their kids to school on the first day, but to stay with their child throughout the day, so they can meet the teachers and aides as well as having a general presence at the school.
March organizers plan a two-pronged approach during this year’s march, by incorporating incarcerated fathers into the academic lives of their children, and to buttress the public school system on the whole, according to Million Father March Executive Director David Fattah Sr.
“Serious help is needed to uphold the public school system. We also want to underline that this year, we’re going all out to involve men who are incarcerated, so we can have someone walk their kids to school,” Fattah Sr. said, noting that more than 800 cities across the country will take part in the march, and that the goal of one million fathers participating is easily within reach. “For men that are incarcerated, they come home and it’s hard to adjust. And this is coming from the national office that we get them to agree to get their own education and check on their kids in school.”
From Fattah Sr.’s perspective, fatherly involvement will go a long way toward helping the school district, especially when the closing of schools and the shuttering of programs are factored in.
“When talking about the schools closing, it’s important to remember that when public schools first started, they used a Latin motto, when translated, means ‘out of many, come one,’ which was based on the fact that so many immigrants came to America from different cultures, and used public schools to bring them together,” Fattah Sr. said. “That has been lost. Educator Bob Moses advocated that there is a constitutional right to quality education, and this is how we need to look at this.
“The days of ‘separate but equal’ must end,” Fattah Sr. continued, “and [the march] will inspire our children.”
The Million Father March is but one of the programs facilitated by the Chicago-based non-profit Black Star Project outfit, which offers several other community and education-based programs geared toward African-American sustainability.
While the march is a national event, some help at the local level is always welcomed, said local president and founder Queen Mother Falaka Fattah, who has dedicated her life to such causes, first by ending the Philly gang wars of the ’60s and ’70s, and then to the general plight of Black youth in the city.
To that end, those willing to donate time, money and other resources — Falaka Fattah said the local organizing branch can use people to drive, and for people to lead several other, smaller marches should either call (215) 473-5893, click over to www.HouseOfUmoja.org or simply stop by the House of Umoja West Philadelphia headquarters, 5625 Master St. Those interested can also attend the planning meetings, held every Saturday from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the House of Umoja. The local movement isn’t subsidized by any grants, so everything must be provided by the community.
For Falaka Fattah, this march, coupled with the involvement of neighborhood fathers and other concerned men, will help stem the flow of Black youth cycling through the justice system.
“I’m concerned about the criminalization of our children. America has the largest and most significant incarceration rate in the world, where 65 percent of those incarcerated look just like me and you,” Falaka Fattah said. “And by the fifth grade, [detention specialists] are using them to define how many prisons to build. So we have a very holistic approach: if they are not going to school, then they are going to jail.
“In my mind, we have a crisis,” Falaka Fattah continued. “We look at cities like Camden, where it looks like it’s a war zone and condemned, and, going out of our own group, you can look what happened in Pine Ridge, North Dakota [which recently had a surge in gang violence on its Indian Reservation], it’s like it is not even a part of America. You could also look at what has happened with [violence facing] Hispanics, so it’s not just African Americans. But we have to start where we are, and where we are is Black.”