Not about Farrakhan Million Man March: Nation's focus should be on call to atone and help each other.

October 22, 1995

NATION OF ISLAM leader Louis Farrakhan is trying his best to use the Million Man March as a springboard. He wants to be acknowledged as THE black leader. But while Mr. Farrakhan may have gained new respect from African Americans and others initially skeptical about the march, that does not mean he should now be treated like an incarnation of Martin Luther King.

Many marchers went to Washington wishing it had been planned by someone other than Mr. Farrakhan. Most left the event heartened by what had transpired and giving credit to Mr. Farrakhan for having conceived the idea, but no more willing to be counted as followers of the NOI leader than they were before.

Mr. Farrakhan never expected to capture the hearts of the marchers, as evidenced by his rambling two-hour address. He knew his audience, filled with a spirit of brotherhood, wouldn't accept his usual rhetorical walk down the path of anti-Semitism, racism and misogyny. Without those devices, he lost focus.

His inability to articulate what the thousands at the event felt was the best indication that the Million Man March was never about Mr. Farrakhan. Even though he planned it.

Mr. Farrakhan's subsequent ploys to keep the spotlight focused on himself, following an event in which participants were urged to be introspective, would be amusing were he not such a dangerous person. Having pulled off the march, though, he has gained attention that he will use to gain additional converts.

Other African-American leaders, recognizing Mr. Farrakhan's limited appeal and wanting to shift focus, are trying to use the march as a catalyst as well. Jesse Jackson has urged President Clinton to convene a White House conference on urban policy. Several members of Congress have similarly asked for a commission to look specifically at the plight of the black male.

Those efforts may help shape new civil rights policy during a time when America needs to assess changing attitudes on race relations. However, it should be understood that creating commissions and registering voters was not why a million black men were asked to march on Washington. Their goal was more personal: To live more responsibly and work individually to make life where they live much better. That's where the nation's focus should be.

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