By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Last week, as Denver Public Schools officials announced they would not permit another Nation of Islam rally to take place at George Washington High School, Alvertis Simmons was asked to comment. "Don't lump us all together," Simmons complained. "I'm sick and tired of people trying to pigeonhole us as one. All black people are not monolithic."
Simmons, who is the executive director of the Local Organizing Committee of the Million Man March, ought to know better than most people. Since the inspirational gathering of black men in Washington, D.C., last fall, the national Million Man March organizing committee estimates that 350 communities have established local chapters. Denver, it turns out, is doing more than its share.
A records search at the secretary of state's office turns up at least 3 million Denver men: the Denver Million Man March Coalition Inc.; the Local Organizing Committee, Denver Chapter, Million Man March; and, simply, Million Man March. A call to the 800-number directory yields another Million Man March. There's even a 900 number that connects you to a Million Man hotline.
National organizers say that such a proliferation of people trying to ride the momentum of the original Million Man March is not surprising--and not necessarily harmful. Still, at the very least, the sheer number of Million Man Marchers can be confusing. All three Denver groups, for example, are raising money, sponsoring events and throwing themselves into various disputes--a grab for money at Park Hill elementary schools, a student walkout at George Washington High School, a huge rally planned for April 29.
According to state records, the area's first Million Man March organization, the Denver Million Man March Coalition Inc., was formed on November 9, 1995. Jeff X, a Nation of Islam follower and owner of the Black Market in Five Points, remembers the seeds being sown even earlier.
"Prior to the Million Man March," he says, "up to even a year before it taking place, Minister [Louis] Farrakhan indicated he'd be doing this, so I was preparing for it by organizing meetings for black men." Yet as the date of the event drew closer, Jeff X continues, he says he noticed that people he talked to were being misled about the upcoming march.
"People were thinking it was going to be just a Muslim event, and the media was portraying it as just a Farrakhan event. So in late August or early September I called a meeting at the All World Seafood Restaurant. It was an emergency Million Man March meeting. The goal was very simple: one, to get together a group of people interested in attending the Million Man March, and two, to organize that group to get support and raise money.
"That's when I formed the Million Man March Coalition Inc. The goal was just to go to D.C.--nothing after that."
Jeff X pauses. He is sitting behind his desk in a room behind the Black Market, which sells Afrocentric art. On one wall is a Million Man March poster; on another is a clock made out of an issue of Emerge magazine with Farrakhan on the cover. "It was about three and a half weeks later," he says, "that I was contacted by Alvertis Simmons."
Although Simmons has been active around Denver for years, he first caught the public's eye a year ago when he worked aggressively to re-elect Mayor Wellington Webb. (Some staffers working for Webb's opponents during the campaign claimed that Simmons physically threatened them.) He has since worked for the city as Webb's neighborhood watch anti-crime coordinator, although recently he has taken a leave to work full-time on his Million Man March organization. Simmons did not return calls from Westword.
Simmons, Jeff X continues, "said he was interested in helping and that he could bring corporate funding to the event--'the big bucks.' This caused a big ruckus at the time."
The reason, he explains, is that "the men were not looking for corporate sponsorship. So while we allowed him to pursue those other avenues, we continued doing the grassroots things--fortunately, as it turns out, because no corporate funding ever materialized."
Still, Jeff X says, Simmons didn't come to the Denver Million Man March Coalition empty-handed. "What Alvertis brought to the table was two things: first, he worked for the city and so had those connections. And then he has a knack for liking to call press conferences."
The Million Man March happened on October 16, 1995. About three hundred Denver men attended. On the Saturday before, dozens of well-wishers gathered at Jeff X's Black Market to see them off as they boarded buses and piled into cars for the 1,900-mile trip. "This is a march of unity, love and a spiritual march," Simmons said.
"After the Million Man March," says Jeff X, "is when all the chaos began."
Two months after the march, on December 17, Jeff X released a three-and-a-half-page statement titled "DMMMC Inc.'s official position on Mr. Alvertis Simmons." It began: "This official position statement is to point out the actual facts regarding the history of DMMMC Inc. and hopefully shed the light of truth on those who may be confused by the split initiated by Mr. Alvertis Simmons who was one of our former members, we believe for his personal political future."