Behind the Curtain

Volunteer organizers behind DC Black Pride encourage others to join and share the rewards

Organizing Washington, D.C.’s Black Pride event, now in its 18th year, is no easy feat. Yet the hundreds of people involved in planning, organizing and executing the event, year after year, do it at no charge.

”Volunteers actually make Black Pride work,” says Courtney R. Snowden, president of the board of directors of DC Black Pride. ”They help us do everything from planning the event, to stuffing bags, to treating our guests with courtesy and care. They are the glue that really holds the event together.”

DC Black Pride offers three volunteer orientations starting a week or so before the Memorial Day weekend celebration kicks off each year, offering volunteers a ”101” course on how to check-in vendors, set up tables, clean up after the event ends, and much more.

For those who develop an interest in volunteering once the festival and related events have begun, it may be too late to participate in the volunteer orientation — but that doesn’t mean there’s no chance for them to roll up their sleeves and be a part of the DC Black Pride machine. Lisa Washington, co-director of volunteers and a member of the DC Black Pride board, encourages them to drop by the hospitality suit at the Renaissance M Street Hotel, this year’s host hotel, and ask for a board member. There may just be a job waiting.

”It’s very important to have volunteers,” Washington adds. ”That’s what keeps us going throughout the weekend.”

Snowden says that even if you miss that boat, it’s still not too late to join.

”We do other stuff throughout the year,” Snowden points out. ”We do a monthly happy hour. We often co-sponsor forums and town-hall meetings and other events throughout the city. There are always volunteer opportunities throughout the year.”

Still, the organization’s ”big push” remains the Memorial Day weekend celebration.

”I think it’s a huge undertaking and a huge event that changes the hearts and minds of people, so we need as many people out, making sure it runs smoothly.”

Doing his part to make sure the DC Black Pride festival runs smoothly is Board Member Sterling Washington. Although this may be his last year as a volunteer, as he is going to be focusing his advocacy efforts on other projects, he says volunteering for DC Black Pride has always been rewarding.

”Volunteers get some really great perks,” Washington offers. ”They get into events for free, and it’s a way to really experience the weekend. You get a different perspective when you are volunteering. You’ve got more of a personal investment in it.”

Washington attended his first Black Pride in Washington in 1999 — he was ”wowed” by the turnout of LBGT people — but says it wasn’t until 2002 when he began volunteering that he became ”entrenched” in the event, and really understood its overall importance. Washington’s initial involvement was fueled by his position as president of the Bisexual, Lesbian and Gay Organization of Students at Howard (BLAGOSAH), at Howard University, while attending the college.

”I got involved with Black Pride along with some of the other students because more than anything I wanted them to see that there are other out, black, gay folks, and also because I wanted other people coming up to experience the epiphany that I did.”

While there may not be financial compensation for the work that volunteers do, Black Pride Vice President Ray Daniels is proof that the organization does pay attention to the hard work conducted by volunteers.

”I got an invitation to join the board,” Daniels says. ”I had volunteered in several different aspects, like sitting at tables, selling tickets and creating materials.”

For Daniels, taking part in organizing DC’s Black Pride festival remains as rewarding as ever.

”I get a feeling of community satisfaction. This event is something people look forward to all year. It’s an opportunity for our attendees to have fun in a safe space, to be in an environment of openness and affirmation. For some people, it’s the only time of the year that they can be their fully realized selves.”

For more information on volunteering with DC Black Pride, visit www.dcblackpride.org.

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