NYC Black Pride: Re-Invented, Rejuvenated & Bigger Than Ever
Four years after the celebration known as Pride in the City lost its revenue streams, organizers have rebuilt the festival, re-branded as NYC Black Pride. They are now preparing to present a week of (mostly free) diverse cultural and social events, from August 15-19.
"I’m not going to give up on Black Pride," said Lee Soulja, who has produced the event for the past three years. "This is the one big time that we have to get together and celebrate our community and culture."
Promoter James Saunders first founded the city’s original Black Pride celebration in June 1997, with a dance party at the International Toy Center on 23rd Street. With the help of other organizers, the party grew into a weekend of events with entertainment and a host hotel.
In 2005, a group called People of Color in Crisis petitioned the Centers for Disease Control and the New York State Health Department to do increased HIV/AIDS testing around a health fair. With this funding stream, Saunders and others created Pride in the City, a Black Pride event
featuring a big Pride party at Riis Park, an Atlantic Ocean beach especially popular with New York City men of color, where there was on-site HIV testing. All seemed well until POCC abruptly ceased operations in 2008.
"It was a disaster that year, because they shut down on the Thursday before Black Pride," said Soulja. "We lost all funding from the government and the CDC, and the Parks Department fought us for the beach party permit."
Soulja said that nightlife promoters, community activists and health organizations got together in 2009 to resuscitate NYC Black Pride, spearheaded by the efforts of Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD) and party promoter Fred Pierce.
"It was moderately successful," admitted Soulja. "We did the events that summer, but everyone stepped back after and recognized that although we did a lot of work, we didn’t get the same attendance."
Black Pride 2012: Seniors, Films, Fashion, Awards & Dancing
This year, Soulja and other organizers have retooled Black Pride to become a week of events that offers something that appeals to all segments of the POC community. It will begin with the traditional Black Pride Heritage Awards, presented on August 15 by GMAD and held fittingly at the Langston Hughes Auditorium in the Schomburg Center for Research on Black Culture, on Lenox Avenue and 135th Street in Harlem.
"The awards will be held in the space they need to be in, with GMAD’s 25th anniversary exhibit there," said Soulja. "It all came together with harmony, and made perfect sense."
Among those receiving awards that evening are violinist/vocalist Tona Brown, the first transgender person to play for a sitting President [Barack Obama]; three-time Tony Award-winning actor Hinton Battle; and Sen. Eric Adams. Soulja also expects Mayor Michael Bloomberg to send a Proclamation recognizing Black Pride Week.
"On the following day, we will do something special that we’ve never done: an event for LGBT seniors," said Soulja. "I think we have to pay our respects to the senior community, who open the doors and fought the battles to get us where we are today."
On Thursday, August 16, LGBT POC seniors will be welcomed at the new SAGE Center at 305 Seventh Ave. in Manhattan for a tour, free lunch and gift bags. The following evening, Harlem United will present a Black Pride Film festival featuring short films about African-American women and HIV, shorts written by high school youth and produced by Hollywood producers Joel Schumacher and Lee Daniels, the first screening of the trailer "Drama Queens," and the feature film screening of "Pariah."
Saturday is a big day for Black Pride, with an expo event at the LGBT Community Center, featuring a performance by the women’s group Allure, and a fashion show highlight the designs of LGBT POC. "Top Runway" coach and "Real Housewives of Atlanta" star Christian Ruart will curate the show.
"It is time for me to help an upcoming designer who doesn’t necessarily have the resources for a PR campaign or a fashion show to get expert criticism, and then go on to make clothes that, regardless of their budget, look like a million dollars," Ruart told EDGE. "I’ve seen how people become very successful from having a little help."
Ruart said that in his 30 years working as an agent, producer and stylist, he has seen how most big fashion trends originate from small designers showing their own creations, which are then co-opted by large fashion houses that do it on a bigger scale with more expensive fabric, and claim they invented it. This time, said Ruart, the designer who may not have the means to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology will be able to get that big break.
"It’s not always about money, it’s about how to do things and make things beautiful in our community," said Ruart. "We have friends who help us become a success, but we never take time to help our community; we usually just fight, and treat ourselves as less than. But I want to help a young, upcoming designer from the Black LGBT community. A lot of these kids have the talent to excel at big fashion houses."
In addition to Saturday’s fashion show, the Big Brothers Network, a bear group for the black community, will hold the XXL Reception, a meet and greet at Hurley’s in Times Square. And later that night, Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) will present The Latex Ball, NYC Black Pride’s annual blowout, at The Roseland Ballroom.
"This event has been going on for over 15 years," said Soulja. "Close to 5,000 people come, from ’Top Model’ celebs to even Janet Jackson attending one year. This is a huge event, and we are happy to have partnered with GMHC for it."
NYC Black Pride will close with a Sunday service at Rivers at Rehoboth Church in Harlem, followed by brunch at Billie’s Black restaurant. On Sunday afternoon, the community will gather at South Street Seaport for "United: The Black Pride Pier Dance."
"It brings a very mixed crowd, and for one day, we can all come together in one group and have a dance, and it doesn’t really matter who we are or how we label ourselves, we are all united on the same issues and causes," said Soulja. "It will be a great mix of the whole community."
For a complete list of NYC Black Pride events, visit http://www.nycblackpride.com/