Community engagement at heart of upcoming Black Pride

—The Philadelphia Gay News | Paige Cooperstein

The town hall that was expected to take place this month to evaluate the effectiveness of a four-point strategy to combat racism in the local LGBT community will now form part of Philadelphia Black Pride’s annual celebration the last weekend of April.

The 17th annual event runs April 28-May 1, coinciding with the historic Penn Relays carnival. It includes the presentation of results from a national survey — conducted by the University of Pittsburgh, Center for Black Equity and Philadelphia Black Pride — regarding HIV and social determinants of health care access for black gay men. The four main events feature a speaker symposium on black LGBT excellence, a Studio 54-themed ball, an awards dinner and an art show dealing with the black LGBT experience.

Presenting partners will convene 16-20 entertainment events and seminars during the course of the four-day celebration. Presidential Parties and Events, Simply Christopher and The Firm Events will provide nightlife activities.

Registration opens March 1 at phillyblackpride.org/mypride2016.

“This year, we’re really focusing on encouraging people to take ownership of their own experiences, their own pride,” said D’Ontace Keyes, chief creative officer with the organization. “That’s why we’re calling it My Philly Black Pride.”

The Ethical Humanist Society of Philadelphia and the TLO Event Complex, in addition to other venues across the city, host the events. Many are free to attend; some presenting partners charge different fees.

“The majority of our events are free,” Keyes said, noting ticket sales for Philadelphia Black Pride events support the organization’s college scholarship program.

“There’s already a barrier created for most Pride celebrations where people have to pay to get in the gate,” he continued. “We try to eliminate that because we know our community. We know that nine times out of 10, they can’t pay cover charges. If we are creating a barrier for people to have that access, then we are doing a disservice to not only our mission, but also to our community.”

Keyes said Philadelphia Black Pride has found strong allies in Franny Price, founder of Philly Pride Presents, which stages the Pride festival in June; and Greg DeShields, executive director of PHLDiversity at the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Keyes said Price has advocated for the Philadelphia Black Pride celebration to receive awareness and resources.

“We have so many subcultures in our community,” Price said. “I understand they’re trying to strengthen the community. They’re members of our community. It doesn’t matter what color they are.”

“From talking with people of color,” she continued, “I understand it’s sometimes harder for them to come out than for a white person.”

Philadelphia Black Pride’s celebration draws 3,500-5,000 people to the city. The visitors bureau helped establish the relationship between the celebration and the Home2 Suites by Hilton in Center City, which serves for the second year as the host hotel. About 500 people a year stay overnight, Keyes said, adding the hotel serves as a home base for all celebration attendees to register and receive maps and event listings.

DeShields said PHLDiversity helps with communications about the celebration on television, radio and social media. The group had primarily focused on bringing more African American meetings to the city, but in 2013 it added emphases for women and the LGBT community.

“It’s really exciting to bring the LGBT segment of the black community to the forefront,” DeShields said. “When we adapted to include the LGBT segment, we were able to provide a more structured framework of resources.”

“The African American LGBT community certainly has challenges in terms of how it’s comprehended and how it fits into the larger LGBT community,” he said, adding events like the Philadelphia Black Pride celebration “show how progressive Philadelphia is as a city.”

“That translates into economic impact,” DeShields said.

Keyes said he hopes the celebration attendees walk away with more knowledge of the black LGBT community, but also that they have a good time, meet new people and strengthen their relationships with old friends.

“Socially engaging communities, first, while doing some passive programming to engage them about important issues has been a strategy that the Black Pride celebration has been based on,” he said. “That’s what has made it so successful. What makes it magical is that a large part of this convening happens with us mobilizing together and sharing resources.”

For a full schedule of events or to register, visit phillyblackpride.org.

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