TWENTY YEARS AGO, I participated in the Million Man March. Last week, the marchers gathered again, still fighting for the same things.

Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam led the march this past weekend in Washington, D.C., just as he did on Oct. 16, 1995. But there were other African-American speakers, too, including members of the Black Lives Matter movement. They all gathered under the theme "Justice or Else," an appropriate banner for our times.

I was, as is often said of those who took part in the event two decades ago, one of the million. I came down to Washington, D.C., in search of answers.

It was a time of great problems in black America. Crack cocaine and violence had engulfed African-American communities across the country. Poverty, mass incarceration and lack of opportunity were other prevalent ills. The late political theorist Manning Marable described it as "a critical moment of crisis" in black America. Yet, no one had any coherent path to progress.

The march, while necessary, was not without controversy.

It excluded black women. (Some concessions were made to try to fix this problem.)

And there were those who opposed the march on political grounds.

Then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani condemned the whole march and Farrakhan in particular. He wasn't alone in his opposition. Others insisted that the march would lead to riots.

But the march came off with barely a hitch. It also produced momentum for change. An impressive lineup of speakers - including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Cornel West and Maya Angelou - delivered relevant and timely exhortations. Many who attended - including people like me who were not followers of Farrakhan or the Nation of Islam - returned to their communities emboldened to organize and address serious racial disparities. The march organizers, however, put all their energy into pushing a call for atonement. Black men were told at the march and afterward to atone for their personal shortcomings. Any political agenda or strategy for change dissolved into this message. It was a missed opportunity.

Twenty years later, many of the same problems that galvanized the million still weigh heavily on black communities. The unemployment rate today among African-Americans is 9.2 percent, nearly twice the national average. In October 1995, black unemployment was 8.1 percent. Of the more than 2 million people currently incarcerated, 40 percent are African-American. Whites have 12 times as much wealth as African-Americans, a gap that continues to widen. And, of course, police brutality persists.

Twenty years ago, I was proud to be one of the million at the march. But if the legacy of the Million Man March means anything, it's time to stop atoning and grab hold of the energy of a new generation of young Black Lives Matter activists who are waking America up to the urgent need for fundamental change.

Brian G. Gilmore is a poet; his latest book, We Didn't Know Any Gangsters, is a nominee for a 2015 Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project,