Students to rally for social justice at Million Man March

When O’Shay Massey, a Western Carolina University senior from Milwaukee, learned of the opportunity to attend the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March in Washington, D.C., she didn’t hesitate reserving a spot on the bus. It was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.

“For me, in my four years here, Western has never really done anything like this that I know of, so I wanted to take the opportunity to go out and actually participate in something bigger than just Western,” said Massey, a communication major with a concentration in broadcasting.

Massey will be one of 50 WCU students who will load a passenger bus headed for the nation’s capital at 6 a.m. Friday, Oct. 9, participate in the Saturday, Oct. 10, event, and return Sunday, Oct. 11. The trip is being sponsored by the Department of Intercultural Affairs.

Organizing the trip was one of the first responsibilities Kham Ward was charged with when he took over as director of intercultural affairs in June. One of the things Ward set out to do was get the students to see beyond their current scope and their current vision of what social justice is.

The original Million Man March in 1995 was a call by Nation of Islam honorable minister Louis Farrakhan for one million African-American males to flood the National Mall in Washington to focus on the theme of “Atonement, Reconciliation and Responsibility.” This time, Farrakhan is calling for a more diverse group featuring men and women of all races to rally around the theme of “Justice or Else.”

“We do a lot of talking about how we want to see change and justice,” said Kani Totten, a junior from Greensboro majoring in political science. “Being a part of it and putting it in action really got me interested.”

After securing the bus and hotels, Ward’s next task was to fill up the bus.

“There’s over 10,000 students on this campus,” Ward said. “If I couldn’t get 50 students to care about social justice, then I needed to take a real hard look at our impact on this campus.”

The cost of the trip for each student is $150. Right off the bat, some 15 to 20 students signed up, Ward said. But he knew there would be some students who wanted to go but couldn’t afford it. So he turned to social media, offering three free spots for students if they followed ICA on social media and explained why they should go for free and what experience they would bring back to WCU.

An unintended by-product was that campus departments and faculty and staff contacted Ward and told him to add an extra person, and that they would pay for it. Ward ended up handing out six free spots. In just over three weeks, all 50 seats were secured.

“One department even started sponsoring different aspects of the trip,” Ward said. “I think that really shows your true Catamount spirit. Not only are you saying this is a great idea, but you’re putting your own resources behind it to support students that couldn’t afford it otherwise. I’m thankful for the departments and I’m very thankful to the individuals, faculty and staff who decided to pool their own resources and help students go. I think that’s an awesome thing for us on this campus to show.”

Kham Ward (center, seated) gathers with students preparing for anniversary event in Washington, D.C. celebrating the Million Man March.

Kham Ward (center, seated) gathers with students preparing for anniversary event in Washington, D.C. celebrating the Million Man March.

WCU will be represented by a diverse group of men and women from various races and ethnic backgrounds. There will be representatives from the Student Government Association, fraternity and sorority leaders, and various student club leaders. And it is a group eager to play a role in doing its part to help bring justice to all.

“I think it’s a great time for (the rally) to help start the national conversation of solutions,” said junior SGA president Hank Henderson of Marietta, Georgia. “Not just protesting and rallying, but finding solutions that help everyone across all diversities. I think it’s the perfect time for it.”

Ward said his goal is to maximize the students’ experience. In addition to being a part of the masses at the National Mall, Ward plans to allow students time to experience the culture and interact with their peers, as well as see the monuments and the White House.

Ward also is hoping to connect with other North Carolina schools making the trip. Assisting him on the trip will be Kevin Koett, associate vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of students; Adriel Hilton, Higher Education Student Affairs Program director; and Michelle Cooper, clinical director with Counseling and Psychological Services.

“From what I understand, a lot of these students haven’t been to D.C., nor have they been outside of North Carolina,” Ward said. “This is an awesome experience for them to open their eyes, get them new lenses and a new vision, a new way to look at life. I want this trip to be like a launching pad, or start a fire within all of them, that they want to be on leadership teams and plan events.”

The fire is already lit under sophomore Adam Hampton, an accounting and business law major from Raleigh. Hampton said he is looking forward to sharing his passion for current events and social justice topics not only with his WCU peers, but with others from across the country.

“Obviously, going while we’re in college, we’re still really in the formative years in figuring out what our professional lives are going to be,” Hampton said. “No matter what you’re going to go into, no matter what organization you become a part of, you’re going to have to navigate diversity, whether it be differences in appearance or differing views of thought.”

Just as the originally Million Man March is being remembered and celebrated 20 years later, Massey is looking forward to taking her place in history, which will allow her to share her experience.

“All the events that have happened lately, I feel like that’s going to go down in history like the Civil Rights Movement,” Massey said. “It’s so major right now, and I want to be able to tell my grandchildren, ‘Yeah, I did the Million Man March at a time when police brutality and racism were at a peak, and we had a black president, and this is how it was. That’s what I’m looking forward to getting out of it.”