It was a crisp fall day when a sea of hundreds of thousands of black men - Christian, Muslim, other faiths - gathered on and around the National Mall in Washington for a day of atonement, reflection, and solidarity.

The historic Million Man March on Oct. 16, 1995, called together by Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, drew black men from around the country to reflect on issues facing black communities and to commit themselves to improving conditions.

Beginning Friday and through the weekend, the Nation of Islam will host the 16th anniversary of the Million Man March and Holy Day of Atonement at the Convention Center.

The event - expected to draw about 18,000 participants - will include workshops and conferences, and will be highlighted by a keynote speech by Farrakhan, who also delivered the main address at the 1995 march.

"The theme and the message will be the same as it was 16 years ago: atonement, reconciliation, and responsibility," said Minister Ishmael R. Muhammad, an assistant to Farrakhan.

"The message of atonement is for the entire black community . . . and a government and nation that has to reconcile many problems and differences it has with its citizens and other nations," Muhammad said.

Since the initial march, the Holy Day of Atonement has become an annual event held in a different city each year. Last year, the gathering was in Tampa, Fla.

Music mogul and Philadelphia businessman Kenny Gamble hailed the choice of Philadelphia for this year's commemoration and noted the slogan: "Long live the spirit of the Million Man March."

"This is the place where America began. . . . The spirit of the Million Man March is going to lock into the spirit of America, and I think we're going to be an example not only to America but an example to the world," Gamble said, "of how a people who were at the bottom are coming up to the top."

Muhammad said the city delivered a large contingent to the march in 1995.

"It was Philadelphia that brought over 150,000 black men to the march 16 years ago," Muhammad said. "This is a historical city, and it is just fitting that so much has come out of Philadelphia as it relates to the success of the march."

The gathering, Gamble emphasized, welcomes women and people of all races and religions.

"This is open to all people and also families. We want the whole family, grandfathers, grandmothers, sons - everyone needs to be there," Gamble said.

The event begins with prayers at 1 p.m. Friday at First District Plaza, 3801 Market St. Forums will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Convention Center.

Saying It Loud: Radio Giving Voice to Black America, a documentary that explores the significance of black broadcasting, will be screened at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Farrakhan will deliver his address at 2 p.m. Sunday, with doors opening at noon.

There will also be a food drive in conjunction with the hunger-relief organization Philabundance, Gamble said. He urged all who come to hear Farrakhan speak to bring canned goods or other nonperishable foods.

The anniversary commemoration also aims to inspire young people.

"The message is to show them what their fathers, uncles, and male members of their families did on the day God blessed us to produce," Muhammad said.

Tickets are $20 and available at various locations throughout the city. For more information, call 215-228-6044 or visit www.noi.org.

Contact staff writer Vernon Clark at 215-854-5717 or vclark@phillynews.com.