Kenya Hutton, one of the directors of Black Pride, has noticed more young people staying in the District to celebrate Black Pride than previously.
“There were a lot of kids going down to party in Miami that weekend,” Hutton says. “But now they’re coming back to D.C. It’s expensive in Miami. You have to get hotels and rental cars. It’s more economical to stay in D.C.”
Hutton says that attendance numbers have been steadily increasing each year. Last year, Black Pride had 20,000-30,000 guests — a number it arrived at by counting heads — attend their many parties and other events. In 2012, attendance numbers were between 18,000-20,000.
Black Pride in D.C. offers plenty of options for young people to party all night or day. Clubs open their doors to partygoers for club events all throughout Friday and Saturday nights, including an after-party. There are also daytime parties on Sunday and Monday, unusual times for parties but something that is normal during Black Pride weekend.
Besides the never-ending parties, there are also more relaxed and informative events to attend. There is a health and wellness festival that gives plenty of information on HIV/AIDS awareness. There is also a picnic on Memorial Day that includes live music and entertainment. Also, there will be a panel titled “Are You Afraid of Aging?” on Saturday that will allow younger people to explore their feelings about getting older.
Young people’s open enjoyment of Black Pride is something that wasn’t always as easy as it is now. Those who attended Black Pride when it started as a fundraiser for AIDS in 1991, were much more tense. Alan Sharpe, who has been attending Black Pride since it began, remembers the fear people felt at Black Pride’s inception.
“People were nervous and scared for Black Pride,” Sharpe says. “The first time we held it was in a field. There was no fence or way to shield it from prying eyes.”
Since then, Black Pride has moved beyond D.C. and is celebrated all over the country as well as internationally.
Although Black Pride is well known for being a fun party weekend, Sharpe says it didn’t start that way. When the Club House, a D.C. venue that had hosted the Children’s Hour, a popular LGBT black dance party on Memorial Day weekend since the mid-‘70s, closed its doors in 1990, Welmore Cook, Theodore Kirkland and Ernest Hopkins were concerned that there were few opportunities for the community to gather and ever fewer ways to properly disseminate information on HIV/AIDS, which was ravaging the community in the pre-anti-retroviral therapy era.
“That’s always been part of the foundation,” says Earl Fowlkes, a long-time Black Pride organizer. “It was more about building community as opposed to Capital Pride which has had its parade for many, many years. They are different community celebrations and we encourage participation at both, but a big part of how it formed was that we needed a way to get information out to the community. There was no Internet and no way to find people, to disseminate information on testing, counseling and so on, so that became the way to do it. We didn’t have a lot of media, we had no networks to have those big discussions. Black Pride provides an LGBT space to deal with our issues apart from all the religious homophobia, so workshops have always been part of our tradition.”
The organization has increasingly in the past few years worked with event promoters who throw lavish parties that, at various times, have been sanctioned or not sanctioned by D.C. Black Pride. This year, Daryl Wilson Promotions, Omega Entertainment and Unleashed D.C. are official promoters for the various dance parties. Fowlkes says although there are pros and cons to the arrangement, ultimately the community benefits from a concerted effort.
“There are always difficulties,” he says. “These are independent entrepreneurs. We’re not working with all of them, but with most of them we are. We encourage them to organize and come together. Although we have done it a few times in the past, we’re not really in the business of throwing parties … and that’s not what keeps you relevant. That’s why we do HIV testing, messaging around anti-violence. That’s why we have to take advantage of the opportunities we have, especially for those under 35 who are hugely impacted by these things.”