First Million Man March was Maplewood resident's step into adulthood

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
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on October 09, 2015

Dean way poses with his wife, Dawn, and children, Tyja and Yusef Harris. Dean participated in the first Million Man March twenty years ago. Maplewood, NJ 10/6/15

 

Dean and Dawn Way spent an evening looking at newspaper clippings about how their life together began 20 years ago.

The first story had them in an East Orange church parking lot. It was cold, close to midnight. Dean was excited and nervous – he was about to get on a bus that would take him to Washington, D.C., where he would participate in the first Million Man March. 

"It was something that I remember when I was starting my family,'' he says, sitting on the couch of his Maplewood home."I was trying to put my best foot forward and I felt the march was a great way.''

He was 23 and ready for manhood on Oct. 16, 1995. Dawn was 21, his fiancée and seven months pregnant with the little girl they would name Eshani S'abree.

Eshani was pictured in the second newspaper clipping, now yellowed with age, just like the first one. Dean was cradling her in his arm as she nursed from the bottle he held. It was six months after the march.

"Look at that,'' says Dawn, sitting next to Dean. "She was tearing that bottle up.''

The picture is priceless, a testament to his commitment.

Dean had to be on that bus two decades ago. The historical event, which marks its 20th anniversary on Saturday, was the platform he used to show Dawn and her father, Herbert Bates, that he was ready to take care of his  family.

Atonement and personal responsibility were key pillars of the march, which brought throngs of African-American men to the National Mall. They promised to reclaim their neighborhoods and be better role models for their families and communities when they returned home.

Twenty years later, much of that ground will be covered again Saturday in Washington, D.C. But speakers also will address economic and social justice issues affecting minority communities.

Dean can't be there this time, but that's okay. In my eyes, he's still a stellar example of what the mass gathering called men to do.

He's a family man, a loving husband and a father, who, over the past two decades, has learned that marriage is much more than a wedding ceremony and his ability to be the breadwinner.

"It's about co-existing and compromise,'' he says. "It's providing the good word, the atmosphere, the calmness in a house, the love and the care.''

He was mature for his age when I met him 20 years ago, and that hasn't changed. That's what made me want to write about him. He stood out among 150 men that night.

His vignette was powerful. Dawn was by his side to support him, even though she was not feeling well late in her pregnancy.

Dean was with her uncle and dad, who talked to him about responsibility while on the trip – a time they used to bond with each other.  

The experience was emotional for Dean, because he couldn't attend the march with his dad. Marvin Muse had died just hours before Dean boarded the bus. Though they didn't have a close relationship, it was strong enough for Dean to accept his dad's advice about family and being a man with character.

His character would be tested 10 days after the march, when Dean's mother, Jacqueline Way, died. Neither of his parents would be there for Eshani's birth in December 1995 or see him and Dawn recite their vows the following March.

Dean pressed on. He worked several jobs, sometimes two at a time, when he and Dawn lived in Irvington. He was a stock clerk during the day and a salesman at night, before taking a job as a corrections officer.

Dean had a plan and he was working it. The Ways had moved into a three-family home; his second daughter, Tyja, was on the way; and he was taking the test to be an Irvington police officer.

"He had a vision and he knew where he wanted to be, and I was willing to follow that,'' Dawn says.  "Look at who he is today.''

Dean is now an Irvington police detective assigned to the mayor's detail. He joined the force 15 years ago to be the cop that young people can admire, like he did as a kid growing up in Newark.

Does it get any better than this?

Dean also is a deacon (and Dawn is a deaconess) at Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark. They share their home with Yusef Harris, who they've known since he was a 9-year-old foster child being raised by Dean's grandmother. When Dean's grandmother died, Harris moved in with them – and Dean says Harris, now 25, is the son he never had. In the community, Dean has organized a reunion basketball game for the past 22 years of former residents at Pennington Court, the public housing development in which he was raised.

His daughters are doing well, too. Eshani, 19, is a junior at Howard University in Washington, D.C and Tyja is a 17-year-old senior at Columbia High School.

They have the funniest memories of their dad doing things that Mom wouldn't. He'd make breakfast cereal with Oreo cookies, then put gummy worms on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch.

"That was so good," Tyja says.      

His sugar was endless. In their lunch boxes, Tyja says he would leave stick-figure drawings of himself and the girls, or notes that said he loved them and couldn't wait until they came home.

Dean and Dawn laugh about his dietary offerings, smiling at the happiness they've shared over the years. What they've done happens when love goes where it is sent.

With Dean and Dawn, love doesn't leave.They won't let it. They never will.

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