The names Million Youth Movement and Million Youth March conjured up images of entire city blocks thronged with people, in a show of unity so strong, a gathering of voices so loud, that the issues of young black Americans could no longer be dismissed or ignored.
It never happened. That ideal evaporated in a cry of rage in New York and a yawn in Atlanta.Toya Thompkins, instead of going to a rally in New York on Sept. 5 that promised more danger than unity, decided to get her hair done. As police and participants clashed in Harlem, Thompkins, 21, sat under a hair dryer in a beauty shop just three blocks away, she said a few days later, and tried to ignore the talk about what was happening in her neighborhood.
"It wasn't worth my time to be there," said Thompkins, who had considered attending but changed her mind because she came to believe that the event would turn into a violent confrontation between the followers of the organizer, Khallid Abdul Muhammad, and the police who had been ordered by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to stand watch.
"They did exactly what they set out to do," she said. "They made Harlem into a battleground. I'm glad I wasn't there to see it."
In Atlanta, DeWayne Rogers, a sophomore at Emory University, said that the city's Million Youth Movement, as the organizers called it, seemed to people here just one more effort to rekindle the fire started by the Million Man March in Washington in October 1995.
"I just wasn't feeling this event," said Rogers, who did not attend what turned out to be a peaceful gathering near the tomb of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Fewer than 1,000 showed up; many young black people here said they had not known about it; some said they went but were bored.
In these two drastically different gatherings in two very different cities, only a sliver of the hoped-for attendees actually showed up, but for reasons as different as the cities themselves. It did not, said an array of young people in both places, signal an end to black activism. Students in Atlanta said it hinted at apathy. In New York, the young people said they felt used and betrayed.