Celebrating Two Powerful Anniversaries with Action

Originally posted on The Institute for Black Male Achievement blog.

Today marks the 18th anniversary of the Million Man March and the 45th anniversary of the Black Power Salute at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City—two landmark moments in our nation’s history where the challenges and lack of opportunity facing black men, their families, and their communities were laid bare.

In 1968, our country was at a crossroads.  That year marked the tragic assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and it was also the height of the Black power movement.  Racial tension was mounting and the nation was becoming increasingly divided.

When Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two American Olympians, raised their fists during the medal ceremony at the 1968 Summer Olympics, they sent a reverberating message to the world about civil rights and the struggle for racial equity and dignity in the United States. Many fans of the Olympics didn’t see race and politics as having a place at this global sporting event. But Smith and Carlos knew all eyes would be on them and seized the moment for change.

Fast forward three decades later to the Million Man March, another powerful call for change that captivated the world stage, when more than a half a million black men and their allies gathered at the National Mall in Washington D.C. to focus the country’s attention on the unique contributions and challenges facing black men. This was a first for our country.  Never before had so many black men assembled to demonstrate their shared vision to change mis-perceptions, ensure economic opportunity, and demand fair treatment at voting polls and beyond.

Shortly after the march, in 1995, the Urban Institute commissioned a study on 51 organizations serving African American male youth. The research found  that after 10 years, one quarter of those organizations no longer existed and less than a quarter continued programmatic focus on black males.

From the 1990s to present day, researchers have observed the following general demographic trends:

•The unemployment rate for black men remains persistently higher, reaching 16.7% in 2012, compared to 7.7% for their white counterparts.

•College completion rates are another area where we see inequity for young black men. Among white and black men and women, black males have the lowest likelihood for college completion.

•The incarceration rates of black males have nearly doubled since the time of the Million Man March to present day.

Reversing these troubling trends requires a steadfast commitment to change by individuals, community groups, public officials, business leaders, and the nation as a whole. When President Obama gave his speech at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, he gave examples of how everyday Americans are marching towards the love, justice, and equity that Dr. King spoke of in 1963.

Obama’s vision — one of a nation continuing to march —is at the heart of our work at the Institute for Black Male Achievement (IBMA). Eighteen years after the Million Man March and 45 years after the Black Power Salute, we continue to march towards that vision by paying tribute to all the organizations and individuals who have worked tirelessly on behalf of black men and boys.  The IBMA is honored to pay tribute to these change makers by supporting and strengthening the black male achievement field around the following areas:

  1. 1. Strengthen Capacity builds strong leaders and organizations working to improve life outcomes for Black men and boys.
  3. 2. Promoting the Field of Black Male Achievement advances a shared positive narrative.
  5. 3. Social Innovation Accelerator showcases and spreads the work of effective leaders in the field.
  7. 4. Communities of Practice builds a long-term collaborative base for the black male achievement field.

We commemorate this day and celebrate black male achievement all month as a way of remembering and building on our rich history to achieve transformative change.  March with us by joining the IBMA network and the conversation on Twitter @bmachievement using #bmaoct.


Marc Philpart
Marc Philpart