They couldn't make it to the Million Man March for various reasons, so a group of African Americans attended a discussion forum here Monday to voice their support for the historic rally being held in the nation's capital.
At the city's Community Center, more than 50 people gathered to take the opportunity to meet other African Americans in a county where they make up only 2% of the population. They lamented about the racial divide between blacks and whites. They discussed problems of crime, unemployment, child abandonment. They talked about self-respect, black pride and personal responsibility.
In short, they were doing everything they would have done had they been able to attend the rally held in the nation's Capitol.
"We in Orange County need a wake-up call, and the Million Man March is the wake-up call," Costa Mesa resident James Porter, the forum's organizer, told the group. "As long as you're dependent on any entity . . . you're going to always be down and ignorant and dependent. Always."
Porter, guest speakers and those in the audience downplayed the role of Louis Farrakhan, the controversial leader of the Nation of Islam and the organizer of the Million Man March.
"There's been so much emphasis put on Minister Farrakhan," Porter said. "He's the mind behind the movement . . . but that's irrelevant. What's relevant is that we need to get together, and this march and this forum are affording us that chance."
A handful of women came to the forum to show their support, but said they had no problem with the men-only aspect of the Washington march.
"I absolutely understand why it's exclusively for men, and that is because they're addressing the issues facing black men," said Linda Welper, 34, of Costa Mesa. "If I had a son, I would have sent him to the march."
The topics of the forum were wide-ranging, covering the O.J. Simpson verdict, the Rodney King and Reginald Denny beatings and former police detective Mark Fuhrman. Speakers also encouraged blacks to be self-supporting and to work with whites to achieve some form of racial unity.
Ralph Johns, 80, the first white to serve as vice president of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, named some of the white activists with whom he worked side-by-side during the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
"Racism is going to be here tomorrow," Johns said. "Racism will never die out. Hate will never die out. The only way [to fight racism] is to love people and hope it will rub off."