by Jessica Carreras
Last Saturday, being more sweltering than the muggy, 85-degree Detroit weather was a big thing to boast. But Hotter Than July insisted – and they were right.
Despite the heat, the Ruth Ellis Pride March and birthday celebration in Detroit’s Palmer Park drew over 150 for the kick-off of the annual celebration of Michigan’s black LGBT community. There, people with banners, Affirmations dancers and even a Barack Obama campaign SUV paraded north down Woodward Avenue and around the park down Covington Drive. Beginning just after 5 p.m., the parade ended on the other end of the park, where the crowd enjoyed hot dogs, picnic foods and a birthday cake for Ruth Ellis.
The theme of the event came from a phrase made famous by Ellis, who was the oldest known open lesbian: “I don’t walk well, but I walk.” Though Ellis died in 2000, her legacy was so profound in southeastern Michigan that her July 23 birthday has been celebrated by her successors ever since at Hotter Than July.
Ellis encouraged the LGBT community to do whatever they could to better their situation and the situations of others, no matter how little they could afford to do. “We encouraged people to follow that saying,” HTJ planner Nkosi Figueroa explained of the parade.
As such, marchers were asked to keep Ellis’s celebrated phrase in mind when coming up with their parade ideas. According to Figueroa, Full Truth Ministries stole the show with their choir, who sang while marching.
And though they weren’t singing, other groups added to the parade with banners and loads of pride. They included Sistahs Providing Intelligence, Creativity and Empowerment, Affirmations Community Center, the Ruth Ellis Center, A.L.O.R.D.E. Collective and others.
The Affirmations dance team headed up the rear of the parade, busting moves that got onlookers to join the parade and cars to slow down on Woodward to watch. The team, which also performed at Motor City Pride and the Building Bridges march in June, will also be performing at the Palmer Park Festival this Saturday. “Whether you say it’s a way of life or a lifestyle, all in all, it’s a positive thing and why not give back to get back more?” dance team member and Detroiter Martell Waddy, 21, said of his involvement. Waddy, who enjoyed a Popsicle and relaxed after the parade with his fellow dance teammates Kris and Tray, explained that he has high hopes for the future of the LGBT community. “I want to see more happening,” he said enthusiastically. “Like, maybe one day we’ll have our own park or our own city, like a rainbow city.”
While Waddy and other youth looked forward to the future of LGBT pride, others reminisced about past years. HTJ veterans Kalimah Johnson and her partner, Keisha Price, headed up the Obama campaign. Johnson helped carry a banner, while Price and Andrea Wilson of S.P.I.C.E. rode in the campaign car. “We wanted to be visible, to be able to connect with some of our gay and lesbian friends,” explained 39-year-old Johnson. “It was really good to be able to come out and reconnect with them (her friends in the community) and we just want to be visible and feel safe and around our friends to just make a point that pride is important no matter what your race or anything. We need to just not be afraid to be out.”
Johnson and Price, 43, handed out literature and promoted the presumed Democratic presidential candidate to onlookers during the event, and plan to attend other parts of HTJ later in the week. The couple said they’re planning on attending Thursday’s film presentation and Sunday’s closing brunch. “We’re looking forward to that,” Johnson said of the brunch.
Johnson and Price, who split their time between homes in Chicago and Detroit, are no strangers to Hotter Than July. In fact, Johnson boasted that she has been to every HTJ celebration except for one, while Price has been to seven or eight. “I think that there are more black people out and I think that there are more people who are interested in having more events and more variety,” Johnson said of HTJ’s development over 13 years. “I think over the years that it has evolved into a group of people who are just not afraid to leap out into leadership in terms of being leaders in other spaces as well as LGBT.”
“It just gives people a place to go, something to do, something to talk about,” Johnson added. “Some people who are not doing social justice work, those kind of folks still know about Hotter Than July, they still know about Black Pride and they still know that if can’t catch up to anything else, they can still come to the picnic on Saturday.”
Hotter Than July will continue throughout the week with art exhibits, films, workshops and outings, culminating with Saturday’s Palmer Park Festival and Sunday’s Jazz and Soul Brunch. For more information, visit http://www.hotterthanjuly.com.