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As the dust settles on New York’s annual Pride Parade, the folks at NYC Black Pride are kicking into high gear for the annual event in August. With the never-ending debate regarding the significance of separate Black Pride events, Executive Director, Lee Soulja-Simmons and his team are busy finalizing plans for the annual August (16-20) celebration. The legendary Ballroom Icon shared his thoughts as they approach the landmark 20th anniversary.

SWERV: Many in the LGBT community have questioned the need for separate Black Pride celebrations. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Soulja-Simmons: There are several reasons why Black Prides are not only necessary but vitally important. The first and main reason is that the whole movement for Gay rights and Prides was started by Trans people of color. These courageous people have slowly been written out of the history of the movement they started. So, we need to keep that history sacred.

Secondly, it is so important for the next generation of LGBT youth to know that we as a community have made major contributions to the quality of life in the world. Currently African American history is barely taught in this country’s school systems. This fact equally follows the inclusion of LGBT history in particular, and the history of LGBT people of color is almost non-existent. Therefore, it is our responsibility to acknowledge, document and celebrate our own history and to pass that education down to the next generation.  Black Prides make it possible to uplift the community in a particularly unique way.

SWERV: What has been the impact of NYC Black Pride over the years?

Soulja-Simmons: NYC Black Pride has transcended. It is more than just parties or an annual celebration. It’s a modern-day community mobilization. Black Pride has played a major role in uplifting a community that has been marginalized and depressed throughout this country’s history. The weekend now serves as a special moment to acknowledge our role in history and our continued contributions to Black culture and to society at large. Making this knowledge accessible to our youth has slowly brought about a change in their perception of themselves and their self worth, to bring forth their empowerment. The youth are now creating their own safe spaces and advocating for the kinds of support and services they need.

Black Pride has become that moment when we unite our voices on issues like healthcare, housing and political policies. Today, most political policymakers realize that if they want to garner the support of LGBT communities of color, they must address our concerns directly. This means that Black Pride is now an important stop for politicians running for office. Most importantly, Black Pride has also become that moment when we realize and execute our financial strength on the local economy. As the event itself has grown over the years, we now have businesses, hotels, restaurants and others competing to service our community and the thousands of visitors who come to this city.

SWERV: What special activities do you have planned to celebrate NYC Black Pride’s 20th anniversary?

A Soulja-Simmons: We have added three special events to the agenda for our 20th anniversary celebration. The first one is a real comprehensive health discussion called Health As A Human Right. This event was named and themed after the organization ACT UP’s first rally 30 years ago outside of the Mayor’s City Hall Building. The participants were chanting “Health is a Human Right” as they were protesting. Well here it is 30 years later and we are still fighting for the same thing. So, we are going to discuss exactly where we are as a LGBT community of color regarding health concerns.

The second special event is a photo exhibit highlighting the creative arts and

artists of the Ballroom Community to coincide with the House Lives Matter gathering. The exhibit will be showcased at the prestigious Schomburg Center for Black Culture and will be the opening feature of the Heritage Awards Ceremony.

The biggest highlight and most special event we have on the agenda this year is a special one night only Broadway show to honor Black Transwomen and their contributions to our history. The show is called Songs for Marsha. It is named after Marsha P. Johnson, one of the key people responsible for starting the Stonewall Riots and the Gay Rights Movement.