How I Wrote It
In 1995, I attended the Million Man March and was transformed by what I saw. So many images touched me -- a sea of Black men spread like a quilt across the Washington Mall, brothers of all beliefs and backgrounds hugging and praying as the voices of speakers soared around them, an amazing youth addressing the masses like that was what he was born to do. Then, I saw a little girl walk past the Reflecting Pool clutching her daddy's hand. Her eyes, big as quarters, glittered like diamonds. She looked like a little princess among kings.
Nearly a decade later, I started working on the draft of One Million Men and Me, a picture book story that would show the March through the eyes of a little girl who was there with her daddy the day black men made history. I struggled at first to get my idea on paper. I tried to write it as a narrative, but it wouldn't flow that way. I believed in the story, but felt frustrated and put it aside for a while. Then, I attended a fatherhood conference in NC where I live. As I looked at the beautiful men around me who clasped hands and worked together, I was taken back to the March. In a flash, I remembered the images that made me hold my head high and the poetry of that incredible moment in history. I went home and the draft came together in a matter of hours.
Just Us Books offered me a contract on my book later that year. It was the beginning of an exciting journey. One Million Men and Me was my first picture book, the realization of a dream. Editors pushed me to polish the story and make sure I added details that would help children get a sense of what this historic March was about.
I've gone to libraries and asked kids to tell me what they know about the Million Man March. They mention Dr. King, who was assassinated in 1968. For them, the Million Man March is just as distant as the March on Washington even though the Million Man March took place just 20 years ago.
I hope children are inspired to learn more about the March. I hope teachers, librarians and parents will talk to them about the men -- and women -- who were there that day and what it meant. I would love for children to start asking men in their communities what it was like to be part of the March. These men are living history.
A cool part of the publication process was getting a chance to see my words brought to life by illustrator, Peter Ambush. He created such a sweet portrait of my main character Nia and her father. Creating a picture book really is a partnership. Author and illustrator are storytellers. It was an enriching experience to be part of that collaboration. I feel such pride when I look at the book cover. When I look back, the idea for One Million Men and Me was born at the March two decades ago. Now, it's a reality. It's still surreal to see my book on the shelf. I feel really blessed.
About the Million Man March
On October 16, 1995, Black men traveled on buses, on foot, in trains and cars for an important reason. They came to Washington, D.C. to stand up and take responsibility for their communities and families, to better themselves and unite. Nation of Islam leader the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan called for this historic event, the Million Man March. It is one of the largest Washington gatherings in the history of our nation.
On that peaceful Monday, something amazing happened. A sea of Black men of different ages, beliefs and backgrounds stood shoulder-to-shoulder. They made new friendships, pledged to strengthen neighborhoods and their families, prayed for peace and healing. They listened to speakers such as Min. Farrakhan, Dr. Dorothy I. Height, the Rev. Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Dr. Maya Angelou and Rosa Parks. A youth named Ayinde Jean-Baptiste thrilled the crowd.
Around the nation and world, millions watched the March on TV. Some people wondered what would happen when the men returned. Would the spirit of change continue? After the March, the answer was felt and seen. Black men registered to vote in record numbers. There was a spike in applications to adopt Black children. Some men started new businesses and organizations, volunteered, rededicated themselves to houses of worship or attended for the first time. Others worked to make communities safer, took pride in being good dads, husbands and role models or made steps to become better men.
The Million Man March inspired a movement. Assemblies followed like the Million Woman March, Million Family March and the Millions More Movement, the tenth anniversary commemoration of the Million Man March. Though part of history, the Million Man March will never be forgotten. It lives on in many hearts and minds.
Quotes about the Million Man March
Here are a few quotes that give testimonies of men who were there:
“I was hearing about buses coming from all states. Some people were walking from Philadelphia, taking the Greyhound, getting here any way they could.”
-- Keith Shannon, co-founder of Preparing America's Tomorrow Today
"There were black men everywhere. Everyone was speaking to each other, shaking hands. That day there were times when you could feel God’s presence.
It was just an overwhelming feeling of joy."
-- Antoine L. Medley, executive and founder, Cornel West Academy of Excellence
"All I saw was just an ocean, an ocean of black men, not just black, but Puerto Rican, Mexican, you name it, people of color. It's like a feeling in your soul. I can't even explain it. Everybody was standing around giving everybody hugs. If you bumped into someone, they said, `Excuse me brother pardon me.' There was love all around."
-- Starsky Robinson, who was 17 when he attended the March