Organizers see sisterhood in numbers 500,000 expected at Philadelphia march

October 24, 1997|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

If all goes as planned, as many as 500,000 women from around the country will join together in Philadelphia tomorrow to offer unity and support for black women.

Organizers of the Million Woman March -- which began at the grass-roots level with two unknown Philadelphia women -- hope to get women together to improve their communities and heal and strengthen themselves and each other.

Margaret Thompson-Bey supports those goals.

She'll leave at 6 a.m. from Mondawmin Mall with members of the Moorish Science Temple in West Baltimore on one of hundreds of buses leaving from the Baltimore area.

"It's time to be self-reliant," said the 60-year-old mother of nine and grandmother of 11. "To come together in love and unity, and take that stand to learn how to do things for ourselves, and the community."

The event isn't the product of a well-oiled machine. Philadelphia residents Phile Chionesu and Asia Coney are organizing the event with two phone lines and a Web site, but few other traditional public relations tools. As a result, the march has lacked the high profile of the Million Man March and has missed some of its target audience -- some women are skipping it, and many men have never heard of it.

After a sunrise prayer service, plans call for a two-mile march along Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and then a rally in front of City Hall to listen to singers and speakers.

Those speaking include U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat; Winnie Madikizela-Mandela; Julia Wright, the daughter of novelist Richard Wright; and Ava Muhammed, the national adviser to Louis Farrakhan -- who spearheaded the Million Man March and endorses this one. Actress Jada Pinkett will be the mistress of ceremonies, according to march organizers.

Excitement has been building for many local black women.

Thompson-Bey's children encouraged her to leave them and her grandchildren behind. "Sometimes I need a little break," said Thompson-Bey, who has never been to a march.

Nasir al Din Khalid-El, the local organization team's secretary, pounded the pavement with other Moorish Science Temple members, handing out fliers in August to men and women at colleges and in neighborhoods throughout the city.

"We've been taking registrations every day. They're coming from everywhere, just to get a seat on [a] bus," said Janice McHenry-Bey, 29, another volunteer organizer. A $30 fee on those buses will pay for the ride, the $10 march registration fee, and the $2.50 fare for a shuttle bus from where the bus parks to the start of the march.

Men are also invited, organizers point out.

"The men are asked to support the women in this moment that is theirs," said Khalid-El, by acting as a "a security blanket for the women" and paying their way, praying for them or going along. At least one man will be on each bus leaving from the temple.

Coppin State College senior Danna Ford, 23, has high hopes for the march. She is going by car with her grandmother and cousins. "I heard how well the Million Man March went, and the spirit they felt when they got there, and I wanted to be a part of history," she said.

The goals march organizers have outlined include:

Developing black independent schools for students between kindergarten and 12th grade.

Preventing gentrification of black neighborhoods.

Creating a network to support black women who have been released from prison.

Developing more Rites of Passage programs -- rituals for adolescents to enter adulthood through honoring elders, learning African proverbs and taking trips.

Philadelphia officials say they are preparing for 500,000 people, 300 vendors and traffic jams galore. Meanwhile, the voice mail of the Philadelphia organizers has been overloaded for days.

Waverly's Morning Sunday won't be there.

"I no longer believe in marching," said Sunday, director of the Center for the Environment, Commerce and Energy. She thinks the $30 that people are paying should be donated to local woman-owned businesses and that people should spend time focusing on their blocks and neighborhoods instead of going out of town to convene. "I think that the healing should have happened in our communities -- the vast reservoir of energy from the march could have been better used at home."

But, she added, "I respect what they're doing. At that time, I will be praying for the spiritual healing and thinking about it."

About the Million Woman March

What it is: To promote unity for black women.

When: 7 a.m. tomorrow.

Where: Philadelphia. The march will start along Benjamin Franklin Parkway and progress to City Hall where a rally will begin.

Featured speakers: U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

Pub Date: 10/24/97

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