COLUMBIA — Linked arm in arm, members of the First Ward community gathered at Douglass Park on Sunday to create hope and inspire change in the black community. People spoke of their concerns, their values, their inspiration. They spoke of how they believe Columbia could change.
Community members gathered to celebrate the 13th anniversary of the Million Man March.
The march began as one of the largest demonstrations in Washington, D.C., to promote black family values and unity. Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam hosted the march on Oct. 16, 1995. It is estimated that more than 1.5 million black men gathered.
"It wasn't about being a Muslim," said chief First Ward Ambassador Tracy Edwards. "It was about being a man and showing up. It wasn't just men. We all know that behind every black man was a strong black woman. Our auxiliary is women."
Robert Goldman attended the original Million Man March in Washington, D.C.
"It was the best experience of my life," Goldman said. "To see a million people in one area. Everyone was getting along, nobody was fighting. It taught me to be more positive, more community oriented and more directed towards my children."
The Columbia event was organized by the First Ward ambassadors. It brought together several members of the community to speak, including Almeta Crayton, Darrell Foster, Tracy Edwards, Wynna Faye Elbet, Rev. James Gray and Bill Thompson. A celebration of the Million Man March in Columbia was organized for the second time since the original event.
"The problem isn't in Washington," Crayton said of reaching minority youth. "The problem is going to change in Washington as we speak. The problem is Boone County. The problem is Columbia. The same folks need to change down here.
"You refuse to stand up in your own community," Crayton said. "They hope you don't stand up. ... Say you've had enough. If you're not reaching to help these kids then you're done for. You're done for. I want to know what's going to happen."
Other members spoke of ways to create change within the black community.
Nathan Stephens, director of the Black Culture Center at MU, spoke of his experience growing up in Columbia.
"Our kids aren't interested in the MKT trails and those kinds of things," Stephens said. "I remember growing up in this community. I would have never gone camping if it weren't for Major Bill Morgan of the Columbia Police Department, Officer Mike Hayes and a whole group of other black people. Someone took an interest and showed me something different. They didn't tell us something different, they showed us something different. They took us camping. To me that's what it takes. It takes someone really willing to do things to try and make a difference and help."
The event is based on the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child," Edwards said.
"Everyone blames the parents when the parents are kids themselves," Stephens said. "Who's helping the parent? Who's helping these youth fathers and mothers? You do what comes natural and unfortunately it comes by trial and error."
Edwards spoke of the importance of taking interest in the youth.
"We have grown folks down in the park gambling everyday. If you want to gamble, take a gamble on one of those children, on one of those kids. That's what you need to be focusing on. A black man cannot reproduce if they're in the penitentiary."
Thompson spoke of a study done about African elephant herds. Older, mature members of the herds were taken out, and the younger elephants terrorized the herd and trampled down crops. When they reintroduced the older elephants, it stabilized the herd.
"We need to be champions in our communities," Thompson said. "We need to get males back into the lives of our kids. We need to get males back into the schools, going to see about their children."