The changing face of Hotter Than July

By |2004-07-29T09:00:00-04:00July 29th, 2004|Uncategorized|

DETROIT – Since its inception nine years ago, one name has been synonymous with Hotter Than July – Detroit Black Gay Pride; and that name is Johnny Jenkins. While year by year each of the original co-founders defected from the DBG Pride board, Jenkins, the organization’s longtime president and all-around point person, remained, his responsibilities to the organization steadily increasing. Last fall, Jenkins finally decided it was time to step down as president, paving the way for new leadership and fresh ideas. But he left behind the proverbial pair of big shoes to fill, and the fact that he remains on the board, continues to serve as the organization’s webmaster and, thanks to recent funding from the Gill Foundation, has actually been hired as DBG Pride’s program director for the TurnOUT campaign, has undoubtedly made it difficult for the board’s new president to imprint his personal stamp on the annual event.
If anyone is up to the challenge, though, it’s Hank Millbourne, longtime HIV/AIDS activist and deputy director of the powerful AIDS Partnership Michigan, who feels that DBG Pride is bigger than any one person, and for that matter, any one event.
“I think that there’s a challenge any time there’s a change in leadership,” he said. “When I came on board as president I made it very clear that I wanted to do more than just produce Hotter Than July and be the producers of Hotter Than July. With the town halls and the Gill Foundation TurnOUT program, I think the last year has been reflective of that. I have been institutionalizing the organization a little more. We realize that this year is sort of a year of transition not only for the leadership, but for the organization itself.”
A year of transition, indeed: there are several significant itinerary changes for 2004. But Millbourne said he didn’t make them, the community did.
“When we first began the community planning meetings we kind of opened things up and asked people to think a little bit broader about how we could do things and we kind of went back and re-crafted the schedule based on community input,” he said.
Noticeable changes include transforming the Genesis Summit, which has suffered in past years from low attendance, from a day-long conference to an evening forum. Another big one is the Pride march. For the past three years, it had served as a kickoff to the weekend’s activities and taken place on Thursday evening. This year, though, the event has been moved to Saturday and will take place just prior to the annual Pride picnic, the weekend’s largest event.
“We wanted increased visibility so we changed it to the weekend and planned a march that actually marched down Woodward into the picnic area,” Millbourne said.
This year will also feature more party options for patrons of both sexes. Last year’s exodus of staple events such as the Men Of Color’s Jazz Bash and the Billionaire Boys’ Club’s anniversary party – events that HTJ was actually built upon at its inception – left men with far fewer events open to them than ever before. This year, however, some ladies-only parties have been opened up to include men, such as the Neo-Soul Sista Fest, which has been renamed the Soulfest Explosion. There will also be official opening and closing parties included as core weekend events. The fact that there are more official parties on the schedule this year should come as no surprise. Two DBG Pride board members, Kimberly Jones of Pink Ice Productions and Anthony Winn of Strongarm Productions, are event promoters. Some in the community have claimed that this arrangement is a conflict of interest that gives Jones and Winn an unfair advantage at getting a party onto the HTJ schedule. It’s an allegation that Millbourne adamantly denies.
“I think we always open up our board process and our community planning process up to people,” he said. “If you look at our Pride in terms of other Prides, most of them are produced by promoters. I don’t think they have as much community involvement as we do.”
Finding the proper balance between community involvement and the kind of events that transform local Prides into the type of weekends that attract national attention – and visitors from across the country – is not a new challenge for the DBG Pride board. Early on, HTJ included facilitators and featured artists with national name recognition, such as The Lady Chablis and author James Earl Hardy. In recent years, though, the big names have been few as HTJ struggled to remain true to its grassroots beginnings.
“I think that’s a challenge that HTJ has always faced,” said Millbourne. “I think it’s certainly one that we’re looking to deal with very directly as we look toward our tenth year and to how we can make it more nationally oriented as we celebrate a decade of work.”
Many of DBG Pride’s changes are not yet visible to the eye. Millbourne is content to work behind the scenes to strengthen DBG Pride’s internal structure.
“I think I came on board with the idea that we would get our business affairs in order and that’s been my impetus,” he said. “I think we have to have more of a solid business type of orientation, not only in putting together Hotter Than July, but in our other presentations to the community.”
Millbourne said he’d like to see DBG Pride secure office space, and that he is working diligently to help the organization obtain its long sought after 501c3 nonprofit status, which would enable it to attract more corporate sponsors.
For now though, Millbourne is ready to simply enjoy a weekend full of fun and fellowship.
“My hope is that people who come out are kind of able to fit into activities and experiences that they can relate to,” he said. “I think there’s enough variety this year that people can kind of pick and choose. I want to see that people have fun, that we really kind of celebrate one another.”

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.