Charles ‘Rahmat’ Woods, an accomplished professional jazz musician and a supporter of the Nation of Islam (NOI), has recently dedicated much of his time and talent to promoting “Justice Or Else” – the 20th Anniversary of the Million Man March (MMM).
In 1995, the Honorable Min. Louis Farrakhan – the leader of the NOI – asked African-American men from all over the country to assemble in the nation’s capital for a “Day of Atonement.” Min. Farrakhan’s call was answered when over 1.5 million men of all cultures came to Washington, D.C. for a day of love, brotherhood and reconciliation. On Saturday, October 10, 2015, African-American men, women and children will return to the National Mall in D.C. to celebrate the original MMM, and to address the criminal and economic injustice that people of color face every day in America.
Woods, who also teaches music, realizes the importance of the “Justice Or Else” movement. He is using his musical expertise as a platform to discuss social issues like police brutality on Black men, and economic inequality. Rahmat composed several original songs for the EP More Than A Dream 10/10/15 – a collection influenced by Native American musical tradition. He is also performing locally to help spread the word about the upcoming march. His next show will be October 6, 2015 at America’s Islamic Heritage Museum.
Sidney Thomas: How long have you been involved with music?
Charles Woods: I’ve been playing since I was 8 years old and I’ve been a professional musician since I was in college – I was about 19 years old. I attended Syracuse University and I studied with some great musicians there like Ralph D’Mello (clarinet) and musical historian Talik Abdul Basheer.
ST: You studied classical music in college?
CW: Yes, in those days (1960’s and 1970’s) very few schools had jazz programs. Across the country, only a handful of colleges offered jazz.
ST: How did you learn about jazz music?
CW: I learned the way most young musicians learned how to play in those days, through oral tradition – lessons handed down from older jazz artists. Today’s younger artists face a disadvantage because there’s no variety of music on the radio. So I always introduce my students to the history of music, and let them hear and appreciate a variety of different genres and musicians.
ST: What is your role with “Justice Or Else?”
CW: I’m part of the “Arts and Culture” committee of the movement. I’m also working closely with the “Native American and Latino” committee. I recorded a Native American style of music and I put together a project entitled More Than A Dream 10/10/15. I have David Ornette Cherry, son of jazz legend Don Cherry, on it with some other talented musicians from the area. I’m going to release it on my own label Rahmat Shabazz.
ST: What is the connection between the MMM 20 years ago and “Justice Or Else?”
CW: On October 10, 2015, Min. Louis Farrakhan is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the original Million Man March with another gathering in Washington, DC called “Justice Or Else.” The original MMM was a miraculous and peaceful assembly of almost 2 million men from all cultures. It had such a profound effect on the community and country that this year Min. Farrakhan is calling for not just men, but also women and entire families to come out.
ST: What do you say to the people who don’t believe another march is necessary?
CW: Don’t look at this as just another march, look at this as the beginning of a movement. If you examine the recent civil unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore, it shows the need for a unified action to protect the community from police brutality. Min. Farrakhan is also going to address the violence that we perpetrate against ourselves – the soaring murder rates in Chicago, and here in D.C., for example. We’ve been studying the later writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, especially when he wrote, “Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle.” This will also be a financial empowerment movement. The holiday season is coming and we’re encouraging people to stop overspending. If we pool our resources, we have the collective economic strength to put power behind our demands.
ST: I understand you’ve been talking about “Justice Or Else” at your live shows this summer and fall.
CW: I’ve been working with the Washington D.C. local organizing committee, and I have performed at several events to help promote and raise awareness about the march. Every performance has been packed and the message is received well by the audience. We recently did a show at the America’s Islamic Heritage Museum, and we’ll be back there again on the afternoon of October 6th. We are only a few days away from the event – so please let everyone know about 10/10/15 “Justice Or Else.”