About 50 people gathered on Oct. 16 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Million Man March and to call on men in Austin to come together to better their community.

Robbie Wilkerson urged men throughout Austin to stand up and take “responsibility and authority” for their community.

“We’ve decided that no longer will we allow other people to decide for us what’s best for us. We don’t need people coming into our community… babysitting us or telling us what’s best for us.”

Wilkerson said the Men Accountability Council’s goal is to recruit 2,000 men who can come together and do the work of improving their own community.

State Reps. Camille Lilly and La Shawn Ford, both of whom represent Austin, attended Friday’s event.

Lilly said she was excited to see the MAC group coming together to be accountable for what happens in their community. “As a MAC lady, I just want to stand next to you walk alongside you as you bring that vision to fruition.”

The event was held in the parking lot of the former Robert Emmet Elementary School, at 5500 W. Madison St. Then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed the Austin school in 2013 along with 49 other CPS schools including three others in Austin.

The Westside Health Authority acquired the former school building in 2018, from Chicago Public Schools, which has been trying to sell the unused buildings.

Morris Reed, CEO of Westside Health Authority, said his organization wants to turn the building into an education center for workforce training and innovation.

He said Westside Health Authority gets “approached by companies all the time saying, ‘We need labor. We need people to take these jobs.'” But, he said, those companies need workers with certain qualifications.

“We can train our own people to get jobs,” Reed said.

“We want to build this center [as] a place where if you want a job, you can get trained for a job, learn how to get a job and get placed in the job,” he said.

Virgil Crawford, a community organizer, called on all the men present to take an oath to make their communities safe, work to build them up, create opportunities for other Black men and women, and “be a testament to the world of what Black men can do when we come together.”

The Million Man March, which the Washington Post called “the largest civil rights demonstration in U.S. history,” was held in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 16, 1995.

Crawford said the march was about “Black men in this country recognizing that we had fallen short of our responsibility.” He said it was based on Black men who were committing to make changes in themselves to “do a better job as men, as fathers, as husbands, as leaders.”

Friday’s event ended with about two dozen of the group, all wearing MAC shirts, marching silently to the former Laramie State Bank building at Chicago and Laramie avenues.

Jacqueline Reed, Westside Health Authority’s founder, said the organization wants to take ownership of the Laramie State Bank building through the city’s RFP program and turn it into a museum about the Great Migration.