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HTJ 2005: With big growth comes big challenges

By |2018-01-15T23:27:54-05:00August 4th, 2005|News|

DETROIT – The 10th installment of Hotter Than July, Detroit Black Gay Pride, was not only well heated. It was also heavily scheduled. Throughout the course of the five-day weekend – yes, the schedule was extended by a day to allow for an opening reception on Wednesday, July 27 and the fun didn’t end until well into the early morning hours of Monday – there were literally dozens of events to choose from.
In fact, there were at times almost too many, and the weekend was rife with tough decisions. On Thursday, for example, it was impossible to do it all. The annual candlelight vigil and opening ceremony in Palmer Park began at the same time as several Genesis Summit workshops at the Hilton Garden Inn downtown. The ladies had an even tougher choice to make as the first-ever womyn’s film festival ran concurrently with these events.
“There was no way that we could have done anything differently,” said Hank Millbourne, president of the Black Pride Society, the group that produces HTJ. “We knew that there were going to be overlapping events. We wanted to give people choices.”
The largest event of the weekend was, of course, the annual Pride picnic in Palmer Park. Each year thousands pour into the park, and this year was no exception. Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick passed by the picnic for the second consecutive year, as did two of the candidates running against him in the heated mayoral race, Detroit City Councilwoman Sharon McPhail and State Senator Hansen Clarke. The only candidate who didn’t put in an appearance was the current frontrunner in the polls, former deputy mayor Freman Hendrix whose press rep, Cathy Nedd, said that scheduling conflicts kept him away but insured that “it wasn’t a slight.”
With or without him, Millbourne said the picnic was “off the hook,” and most agreed.
“Each year it gets bigger and better and there’s always something new,” said Oliver Buffington, Jr. of Romulus, who attended for the fourth year. His only complaint was the ball scene type of entertainment. “They could have had better entertainment – more local artists performing their stuff – but overall the entertainment was good.”
Martone, a Detroit-area personality who handed out flyers for his new cable show, said the picnic is always his favorite event.
“The best part about it was seeing all my friends who I hadn’t seen in a while,” he said.
Millbourne did admit, however, that there was a snafu or two.
“As usual, we had some challenges,” he said, including the fourth annual Pride march. Renamed this year the Ruth Ellis Pride March in honor of the late community matriarch, it never happened. To attempt to draw greater numbers, the march was scheduled for 3 p.m. on Saturday. By that time, however, everyone was already at the park, their grills fired up and their blankets strategically positioned in prime shade areas. No one much felt like leaving the park and walking several blocks over to the Ruth Ellis Drop-In Center just to turn around and march back to the park.
“The march was one of those things that kind of fell by the wayside this year,” said Millbourne. “I think what we’re looking at for next year is moving the march back to the candlelight vigil night. It seemed that after we got out at the park it was a challenge to get people to leave.”
Other events over the weekend were a mixed bag. The jazz brunch, which returned this year as a core event after a one-year absence, was a sold-out success. The Genesis Summit workshops, which changed from a one-day conference to evening workshops spread out over several days, was hit and miss.
“The competing events may have affected some of that,” Millbourne said. “The SPICE workshop was standing room only, so I know next time to actually schedule them a bigger space. Saturday’s workshops didn’t do well, but I think the challenge is people party on Friday nights so it’s hard to get them out.”
A final positive for the weekend was the new host hotel. This was HTJ’s first year at the new Hilton Garden Inn, but it likely won’t be their last.
“The new hotel was fabulous,” said Millbourne. “It was great working with them. They were just super accommodating.”
Planning for next year’s HTJ will begin next month, and Millbourne pledged the weekend will continue to grow, though in which direction he said it was too soon to say.
“I want to sit down and kind of debrief with the community and see what worked well and what didn’t work well and what we can do to improve.”

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University before joining Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. Jason has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author having written the authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," which he released on his own JAM Books imprint.