Men plan Annapolis march as apology

September 06, 1995|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

Black men in Annapolis will hold a new kind of public event: a mass apology.

The "March for Forgiveness," scheduled Sept. 24, is a day of atonement planned by African-American men who say their group has abandoned and abused their families and communities for too long.

"Men need to take their place as head of their families," said Jerome Simms, a community activist who is organizing the march. "We must make public apologies for all the ill things we've done."

Organizers are billing the event as a trial run for the "Million Man March," an Oct. 16 demonstration in Washington, staged by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and ousted NAACP Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.

Both events focus on public atonement and are meant to renew a leadership spirit among all men, specifically blacks.

"It's not so much that we're followers of Farrakhan, but the minister is doing the right thing," said Joseph "Zastro" Simms, a local activist who plans to join both marches. "It's time for us to do the right thing and get in line and march."

The march targets men who have turned to drugs and alcohol, skipped child support payments, cheated on their wives or otherwise failed their families or communities.

The Annapolis march will run from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., beginning on West Street near Amos Garrett Boulevard and ending at the First Baptist Church on West Washington Street.

"I think what we're trying to say is that we want black men to understand it's now time to put down our barriers and work together and work with our kids to get the family back together," said Larry Griffin, a member of S & S Enterprise Inc., the community service group that planned the march. "We need to get our self-esteem back where it should be."

Russell L. Adams, chairman of Afro-American Studies at Howard University in Washington, called the Annapolis march a feel-good exercise, "like an Easter parade."

He also wondered whether the marches would attract only model citizens who have no reason to apologize.

"The folks who take part in the march are not the ones mistreating women," he said. "The men who are mistreating women will watch it on TV from the pool hall, or stay at the other woman's house and chuckle. This targets the wrong people."

Indeed, the speakers are community leaders such as Alderman Carl O. Snowden; Gerald Stansbury, local director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and the Rev. Barbara Sands.

Consequently, participants are being asked to bring guests who can speak about their own experiences and their remorse.

Mr. Griffin, a one-time narcotics dealer in Annapolis, plans to tell the crowd his personal story of drug addiction and crime.

"I'm going to say I'm sorry to the men and women that I've turned on to drugs," said Mr. Griffin, 45, who now is a community worker in the city. "I'm mostly going to apologize for myself, for doing what I did and being what I was for 25 years. I was nothing. I was a piece of trash. I just wanted to get high and high and high, and I want to apologize for that."

Mr. Griffin's drug habit started in 1973, when he got a job playing drums in The Daylight Band, a Southern country-rock group.

His drug life ended 15 years later when, after smoking an "eight-ball of cocaine" -- roughly an eighth of an ounce, he had what he calls an epiphany.

"I knew I had to get clean," he said.

Mr. Griffin joined a rehabilitation program within weeks of that night and said he has been clean ever since.

His hope is that his story will inspire others, he said.

And he asks forgiveness for his past.

"I could keep apologizing every day for what I put my family through," Mr. Griffin said. "And even then, that wouldn't be enough."

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