Families Come Out For D.C. March

Tuesday, October 17th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Million Family March began before sunrise for Charles and Valerie Ward and their two sons.

Taking off from work and school, the four loaded their car with folding chairs, cold soda and walkie-talkies and set out from their home in Sterling, Va., for the 30-mile drive to the National Mall, where they settled in next to a tree near the base of the Lincoln Memorial.

``I'm here for my two sons so they can know the importance of family, so they can understand everybody coming together — not just African-Americans,'' Valerie Ward said.

Thousands of families joined the Wards on the National Mall on Monday, answering the call of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to celebrate racial and religious unity and the central role of the family in American life.

Farrakhan addressed the crowd with a two-hour speech that touched on a variety of subjects, including the Middle East strife, the presidential race, poverty and sexism. Controversial for his anti-white and anti-Semitic proclamations, a softened Farrakhan promoted diversity.

``I am a Christian. I am a Jew. I am a Muslim. I am Pentecostal. I am of the Church of God in Christ. I am a Jehovah's Witness,'' he said. ``I'm all of that and then some. Because I refuse to let things limit me as to who I really am. And you should not allow that either.''

Most of those attending spread out between the Capitol and the Washington Monument, with smaller groups at nearby venues watching the event on giant television screens.

The crowd on the Mall appeared considerably smaller than the Million Man March of five years ago, which the National Park Service said brought an estimated 400,000 people to Washington. Farrakhan insisted the 1995 event drew more than 1 million, and the park service stopped making crowd estimates after the controversy.

Ben Muhammad, national director for the Million Family March, said at least 3 million people showed up for the day's events.

But officials at Washington's subway system said at midafternoon that the number of riders was only slightly above normal; by contrast, the Million Man March had caused the system's second-busiest day.

After his speech, Farrakhan, along with rabbis and ministers of other faiths, presided over a mass ``sacred marriage blessing'' of already married couples reminiscent of the mass weddings conducted by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, whose Unification Church was a major sponsor of the march.

At the Lincoln Memorial, about 100 couples dressed in everything from sweat shirts to tuxedos and wedding gowns gathered for the ceremony. Dozens of others lined up on stages around the Mall, and event organizers said thousands more were scattered in the crowd.

``We thought this was the perfect opportunity to bless our new union and give our family a positive direction to go forward,'' said Jermaine Lawrence, 26, of Hartford, Conn.

Lawrence and his wife Carolyn, 25, were legally married last Wednesday, but said they would celebrate this day as their anniversary.

Despite the call for diversity, the crowd was largely black. Some Asian-American and white families could be seen here and there, many carrying symbols of the Unification Church.

Greg Odlin, 45, a white minister whose church is affiliated with the Unification Church, brought his wife and four children on a bus from Portland, Maine.

``I came down to fellowship with my brothers and show there's a lot of Americans serious about the family,'' he said.


On the Net:

Million Family March: http://www.millionfamilymarch.com