Originally created 10/14/96

March had impact, black leaders say

In the year since the Million Man March, black voter registration rates in Richmond County have grown at more than twice the pace of white registration.

The Oct. 16, 1995, march is also being credited with a slight increase in civic involvement among black men, particularly in school mentor programs. But schools are still clamoring for more male volunteers.

Amid messages of social activism and community involvement, speakers at the march also urged participants to register to vote.

In Richmond County, the number of blacks registered to vote has climbed 14.4 percent since the Million Man March, from 35,214 in early November 1995 to 40,293 as of Oct. 4. That's compared to a 6.7 percent registration increase among white voters.

Columbia County has added 518 black voters in the past year, a 14 percent increase. The overall increase in registered voters in Columbia County is 11.8 percent.

The new Motor Voter law has been credited with improving overall registration rates throughout the country, but many attribute the local increases to the march and a renewed sense of civic responsibility.

"We've registered more voters than we have in years past," said Tom Edwards, president of the Augusta branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

One in a Million, a local black activist group that emerged from the march, has registered more than 500 new voters since October 1995, said President James Reid.

After the march, Principal Winnette Bradley of Augusta was admittedly skeptical about the local impact of the event.

"I told them that a lot of people joined bandwagons, I told them they had to do more than just lip work," Ms. Bradley said.

But members of 100 Black Men of Augusta heeded her warning and signed on as long-term tutors and mentors for male students at Murphey Middle School, where Mrs. Bradley was principal. This year when Mrs. Bradley became principal at Richmond County Alternative School, some of the volunteers followed her there.

"These people understand that this wasn't a quick fix," she said. "We can't apply quick fixes to students who are needing long-term associations with positive role models."

Before he was paired up with his mentor Larry Fryer, Rodriques Johnson said his grades were bad and his attitude was even worse.

"It was like I looked at life as a game," said the 15-year-old Glenn Hills High School sophomore. "I really didn't take a whole lot of stuff seriously.

"You know, I was like a C-student, barely getting by, but now I'm doing great."

The Rev. Fryer is both a tutor and a friend who has helped the teen-ager realize that hard work, good grades, a good attitude and self respect can guide him to his goal of working in the medical field, Rodriques said.

"When a younger person sees an older person try to do something for them, that gives (the younger person) a boost to do something also," Rodriques said.

Jesse Hughes, a mentor and member of 100 Black Men of Augusta, said the march helped define his role in community.

"For me personally, I got more involved," Mr. Hughes said. "It's a matter of reaching back, and for quite a while, we weren't doing it. I think the march opened up a lot of eyes."

Mr. Hughes also is director of finance for the newly formed Male Room Foundation, another mentoring group for all teen-age students. On Nov. 8, members will take 55 students - five from each middle school - on a "career cruise" to teach them about business.

There's still a need for more mentors like Mr. Hughes and the Rev. Fryer, said Josalyn Gregory, executive director of Communities in Schools of Augusta-Richmond County.

Despite the strides that have been made in the past year, many marchers agree with Ms. Gregory that their mission for the community has not been fulfilled.

"I think it has made a positive impact on black males taking responsibility of their homes and getting involved in civic activities," said John Covington, acting president of Blacks Against Black Crime. "But it hasn't been that effective (in) to trying to get the point across to other members of the community and politicians."


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