Metro Weekly

Give me liberty! And Unity! And Strength!

D.C. Black Pride adds three guiding lights

There’s no mistaking the theme of D.C. Black Pride 2007. This four-day festival is most certainly ”Black All Over.” But don’t forget the fine print. Three small words — but with very big importance — are offering a foundation that will remain long after the weekend’s parties, forums, films and fashion have ended: Liberty. Unity. Strength.

”It’s strength to continue to do the work that our forefathers did making it possible for us to live an openly gay lifestyle,” explains James W. Hawkins, president of the D.C. Black Pride Board of Directors. ”Unity brings everyone together to realize we are one family, that we want the basic rights that any heterosexual individual would have. Liberty sort of ties back into the ability to live your life in an open and positive way.”

Hawkins adds that these three legs — three being the number of legs that offer the most stable foundation, after all — will remain as part of the DC Black Pride logo and mission into the future. ”Not it’s our basic tagline, or mantra,” he confirms with a laugh. Coming up with this new ”mantra,” he adds, was a natural and immediate fit for the Board of Directors, who offered quick consensus in support of liberty, strength and unity as the future’s three guiding lights.

Ray Daniels, the board’s vice president, takes his own sense of liberty to heart.

”It took me a while to get there professionally,” says Daniels, who once worked with the National Black Justice Coalition, but today works in mainstream marketing. ”Personally, I’ve been out for 21 years, but it wasn’t until I worked for an LGBT organization that I came out professionally. Now that I’m back in the corporate world, expressing who I am has become so important that it’s not possible for me to go back in the closet. It’s the way I present myself.”

Daniels says that in the larger scheme of things, liberty is something so many D.C. Black Pride attendees will be looking for over the course of the weekend. And they’ll find it.

”Liberty means that we are free to be out, free to celebrate what is unique: being black LGBT people,” he says. ”It’s being free to celebrate a tradition that has carried on for 17 years, free to be who we may not be free to be other times of the year.”

The pillar of unity, explains Board Member Courtney Snowden, brings it all together: ”Our theme is broad. It’s unifying Black Pride, unifying our community to make ourselves stronger. It’s unity to help mainstream black culture know we exist. In my life, it’s about unifying the parts that make up me: I’m black, female and lesbian. It’s about unifying my spiritual, professional and family lives. It’s unifying — and amplifying — these parts. It’s about being unified in the face of all the negatives that we get all the time.”

And while unity brings all three tenets together, it’s strength that holds them there and keeps them tight.

”As African Americans, as black people or brown people, it’s pulling from that inner strength, from our pride as a people,” says Shanika Whitehurst, also a board member. ”It’s looking at that fabled ‘stronger together’ — united we stand, divided we fall. It’s everyone working together, pulling from your roots, those teachings from your parents, so that we can move forward as a group.”

Hawkins emphasizes, as well, that the community can expect to be reminded to enjoy liberty, feel unity and exude strength more than once year. D.C. Black Pride, he says, is getting ready to move into high gear. ”We are moving away from being a weekend event, with programming the entire year,” he promises. So look for a year — a years to come — full of liberty, unity and strength.

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