Philadelphia Black Pride (PBP) is hosting a weekend of in-person Pride events for the first time since 2019. The series of events, the theme of which is “Legally Black,” will kick off on April 29 at Level Up and include parties throughout the weekend, wrapping up on Sunday, May 1.
Now in its 23rd year, PBP’s mission is to educate, ameliorate, inspire and celebrate LGBTQ+ lives through multicultural programs, policies and partnerships. Although Black Pride celebrations take place in other U.S. cities, PBP hosted the first one in Philadelphia in 1999.
When the organization turned 21 in 2020, the PBP team launched the “Legally Black” theme to celebrate its anniversary. “That was kind of the message behind it, that we were grown up in terms of the organization,” said PBP President Le Thomas. “Then in 2021, we still kept [the theme], but during that time there was a lot of social and civil unrest, so it still kind of resonated with us too. Then this year we’re still keeping it, but it’s like a reemergence of sorts of the organization and of the members on the board too. We had to reconnect in terms of how often we talked and how the planning went.”
This year’s festivities kick off on Friday, April 29 with “Boyz-N-Bottlez,” at Level Up that will feature performances by Ra-Ra and Midnight & Masterpiece. Also on the 29th is a “Proud Out Loud” slam and showcase with Queen Phierce. Saturday, April 30 will feature a handful of events, including “Blaq Saturday: Black Pride Edition” at Mirage Lounge on South Street. The celebrations continue on the 30th with the “Daytox Day Party,” hosted by “the Legendary Face” makeup artist Jacen Bowman, aka King Mother Supreme Moncler. Nighttime events on April 30 include “Welcome to P-Valley” at 9 p.m. at 923 N. Watts Street; “CODE: BLACK” at Level Up, with music by DJ Dave, DJ Apollo and DJ KidRoc and guest host Mutha Knows; and “28: Black Pride Edition” at Mei Mei Lounge, which is for those who are 28 and up. Sunday, May 1 brings three day and evening parties at Level Up and Roar Nightclub, including “Soul Sunday Day Party.”
For Thomas, celebrating Black Pride allows him to be his authentic self.
“Black Pride in itself allows me the space to celebrate myself and others that are like me in that way where you grow up in small towns and you hear stories of people not seeing themselves and where they’re from,” he said. “You go to a bigger city and you get to see more people, and you recognize yourself in that way. That’s what Black Pride means to me; I get to see myself represented on all accounts for the weekend. I get to celebrate myself.”
PBP’s roots reach back to 1998 via the COLOURS Organization, which Mike Hinson directed at the time. Hinson and other community leaders of color felt like Philadelphia’s mainstream Pride events did not encompass the intersectionality of what it means to be a queer person of color.
“There are oftentimes nuances within LGBTQ+ communities that for a host of reasons get lost in larger sponsored kinds of events,” Hinson said. “There was a group of us who believed that those nuances, particularly at the time we founded Philly Black Pride, were so critical to survival. We needed to have space that was by and for Black communities, Latinx communities. We never looked at it as a competition with the more general kind of Pride, but there are very particular nuances, things that Black communities care deeply about that don’t really get presented and are not touched on in a traditional Pride.”
Some of those nuances, Hinson said, include the relationship between Black communities and faith communities, whether it be Christian, Islamic or traditional, African-based faith. Around the time of PBP’s inception, Hinson approached Franny Price and the other organizers of Philly Pride Presents, asking them to change the date of the main Pride festivities to avoid conflict with the African festival Odunde. But the organizers refused, and the Pride festival coincided with Odunde for years.
Hinson also emphasized the need for Pride to provide safe spaces for historically marginalized communities, including Black and Brown people who face discrimination within the white LGBTQ community.
For him, Pride is also about “providing space and opportunity for that coming together, for Black folks who identify as members of LGBT communities who are trying to figure out ways to unify community, while at the same time finding the safety net that we need in order to feel that we have a place in society. It’s important to be able to have a voice that is specific to Black experiences, Black needs, Black desires, Black art, Black faith, in LGBT spaces. There’s a large number of folks who support traditional Pride and at the same time want to expand the space so that we give attention to the nuances of being trans, or the nuances of being nonbinary, or the nuances of being Black and from North Philadelphia. Those things don’t take away from traditional Prides at all, they add texture and in many ways more authenticity and competency.”
Thomas said that he’s excited to be hosting in-person Pride events for the first time in three years, but still plans to proceed with caution in terms of maintaining COVID safety.
“We’re still in tricky waters,” Thomas said. “But festivals within the city are happening, so as an organization we’re keeping it rather small. But we’ve partnered with a lot of nightlife partners to help create that buzz again and to give people a reason to come back to the city. We’re here, we’ve reemerged, and we’re going to — not try to — be what we were, we’re just going to try to reemerge into what we can be now.”
In addition to Level Up, some of those partners include Welcome to Philly POC Party, GStyle Productions,The Main Event Philly, DJ Honey, Jay La Tay, Tito’s Vodka and CrownRoyal.
The current PBP board includes Jacen Bowman, James Crowder and Duane J. Wilkins. Thomas plans to expand the board “and make sure that it’s fully represented by the community,” he said.
For more info about PBP Pride events, visit https://phillyblackpride.org/.