In October of 1995, millions of men (predominantly African-American) joined together in Washington D.C. for the Million Man March. While the event featured predominant influencers such as Al Sharpton, Maya Angelou, and more, there were dozens of other speakers and leaders whose names were not as yet well known. Yet despite their relative obscurity during the pre-internet time, 23 years later, they’ve emerged as some of the strongest voices within the United States and abroad.
Although he worked on numerous causes with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. before his untimely assassination, Henry Nicholas may not have the household name recognition as the Kings, but he has devoted his life to securing fair wages for hospital and healthcare workers throughout the United States for over 35 years. He currently serves as the president of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, a title he has held since 1981 (he has held the title of International Vice President since 1989). Nicholas started his career as health care worker in New York City, eventually organizing the campaigns that built Local 1199 into a major, recognized labor organization. He also serves on numerous boards that fight for better employee rights, job training, and healthcare. His work was influential in shaping some of the policies enacted by President Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act in 2010, an act that provided better access to health care for millions of people around the country.
The Reverend Benjamin Chavis, the director of the Million Man March, also an early civil rights activist, went on to inspire millions through his work in the fields of music, education, and journalism. Chavis has served as the CEO and Co-Chairman of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network in New York City (an endeavor that he co-founded with Russell Simmons) since 2001. In 2009, he and Ezell Brown and founded the Education Online Services Corporation, one of the largest education solutions that provides curriculum and operational assistance to dozens of colleges throughout the country. In 2011, Chavis authored the forward of multi-platinum music producer and author Sahpreem A. King‘s book, “Surviving the Game: How to Succeed in the Music Business.” In 2014, he was named the interim president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, an organization whose focus is on supporting and advocating for the success of over 200 black-owned newspapers.
As the eldest son of the iconic civil rights leader, Martin Luther King III had quite the name to live up to, yet he has spent the past four decades devoted to numerous causes including reducing police brutality, holding politicians responsible to their constituents, encouraging men (especially Black men) to get tested for prostate cancer, championing for workers’ Riggs to organize, and running several organizations devoted to his father’s legacy. He has also served as an unofficial ambassador to India, where he denounced violence both within India and abroad. He has been both criticized and praised for his political views, which have never strictly adhered to one party line, but rather have called for more dialogue between groups and focused on creating solutions more so than division.
Additionally, many of the ministers, priests, and other religious leaders who are still living have gone on to promote positive initiatives and established charitable efforts within their congregations and communities, many using their positions of power to try to influence political policy on behalf of disenfranchised populations.
As for those who have passed, such as the late Rosa Parks, their legacy of dedicating their life to a cause that they believed in continues to inspire millions- even 23 years later.