Most people at some time in life need, ask for and receive support. Some people recognize ongoing need for support in a community and create vehicles that supply it effectively and consistently. On the rarest of occasions, a community member identifies a need for support—for housing, employment, friendship, acceptance, love—and designs an organization that not only uplifts and protects their peers, but anticipates how it might better do so going into the future.
One example of this last, most rare model is arguably Oakland Black Pride, founded in 2020 by Olaywa K. Austin. The nonprofit seeks to raise the visibility and stability of the queer and trans BIPOC community through comprehensive programs that apply design thinking concepts to general learning, professional growth, career planning, social representation, personal identity, heath and wellness, advocacy, family relationships, housing, wealth management, and more. Design thinking is an approach often used in industrial design to discover hidden but real consumer needs, and builds new products and brands that meet and solve those needs.
Oakland Black Pride’s three platforms include the Springboard Program, an initiative consisting of incubator learning modules in which experts share knowledge with the Black queer community. The programs address personal growth, housing, career mentoring, educational inequities, and social issues such as racism, homophobia, transphobia, and sexism. Black queer and trans participants are consistently encouraged and mentored to become leading producers of solutions and structures that change the environments in which they live and work.
The group also operates a monthly QTBIPOC Social Circle, comprised of an array of gatherings in safe spaces where Black and Brown people who identify as LGBTQ+ or non-binary gather to share joy, laughter, skills, and overall pride of self that is not restricted to June’s annual Pride Month, but runs 365 days each year.
The annual Oakland Black Pride Festival is perhaps the culmination of these two programs, and rides a high rail of celebrations that run from Wed/28 to July 2. This year features a dazzling lineup of curated events: the “Breaking Bread” benefit dinner; “Navigating Grief + Loss Through Joy” and “Touch Me, Tease Me: An Interactive Exploration of Kinky Expression” workshops; a queer pub crawl through High 5ive Rooftop Bar, alaMar Kitchen & Bar, Town Bar + Lounge, and Amber Lounge; the 3rd annual Queer Expo with more than 50 vendors, kids activities, wellness workshops, and more; a queer kickball tournament; a fundraising brunch at Biscuits & Bellinis; and “The Cookout,” an event presented by The Motion Collective and 7000COILS that is open only to the Black queer and trans community. (Non-Black, non-POC, queer and straight people are invited to purchase and donate a ticket that will allow a Black queer person to attend.)
In an interview, Austin says this cookout at the end of the festival is an intentional, exclusive party. “We ask that non-POC and non-queer people not attend so that we create a space where we don’t have to be on guard or explain ourselves, or be handcuffed in our expression of our full selves.” For OBP, the needs of the Black queer community always come first and are attended to without sacrifice.
There is that same intentionality behind every element of the festival. Austin, who uses they/them pronouns, says each organization and venue they partner with is carefully selected.
“These are real supporters of the Black queer community,” they told 48hills. “I want to give a shout out to all of them. The High 5ive Bar and the Kissel Hotel, the Forage Kitchen, Agency Oakland—I can’t speak enough about them and how they’ve shown up for us. All the folks who have opened their doors to us, we so appreciate them.”
The organization’s newly formed relationship with Get Some Joy, a national creative wellness agent, has Austin excited.
“They’re orchestrating the navigating grief workshop,” they said. “I’ve experienced some grief the last couple of years, as have most of us, but I’m a joy dealer. During the pandemic when we were developing Oakland Black Pride, there was a space and time I needed to grieve, but I also needed joy. This is a workshop about finding joy within that space that feels icky sometimes.”
“Icky” spaces sometimes appear to be everywhere in today’s political climate, in which overt and covert anti-LGBTQ+, anti-trans, and racist expressions and messaging are depressingly common, from schools to corporations to government to the courts and more. Austin said that 20 years ago, such bigotry was often referred to as a “family issue”—a kind of doublespeak that could ironically lead the way for increased tolerance.
“I suppose seeing the hate and strategic attacks against a family member who is someone you love makes folks say, ‘Hey, is that what I was doing? That’s not cool. Let’s all get on the right track,’” they said.
Such vitriol often leaves queer folks with the need to create new bonds to replace those with blood families, a demonstration of their natural aptitude for problem-solving design thinking strategies.
“I think it’s united the community, even to see entertainers talk about their queer or trans children with love,” said Austin. “It’s on social media and more visible. Sure, you see more haters, but also more lovers and supporters.” Oakland Black Pride has received messages of support for its work from as far away as New York City.
During the organization’s three years in action, Austin and their team have conducted extensive research aimed at better defining and finding solutions for the community’s concerns and needs. Out of that have come several truths, among them are a thirst for knowledge and a love for community.
“I started by throwing what I thought would be a little fundraiser and said, ‘Hey, we’re doing this queer bar thing and I’m interested in queer Black educators coming,'” they remembered. “There were so many educators who showed up. I thought, this is cool, we’re on to something.”
Austin said that their faith in people has been restored by both the fact that the Black community at large shows up for OBP, and that group members display a fierce commitment to taking care of one another.
“We need each other because there’s strength in numbers,” they said. “No one is going to care of us like we are. There’s stigma in the Back community about ‘don’t be gay,’ and that still exists. We know a lot of Black queers come out of that family dynamic. So seeing the support here—it’s a surprise the Black straight community comes out for us, but they do.”
Asked about obstacles that continue to oppose or hold back respect for Black and Brown people who identify as queer, Austin said that nuanced and sometimes tender approach and language are effective. That doesn’t mean they are not going to “knock a little louder.”
“For us, it’s pride 365,” Austin said. “If more folks would talk about us 11 months during the year, that would be great. We use June as a platform, but we know that July 1, the rainbow stickers are stripped off and everything reverts.”
Rainbows will most certainly remain at the Black Queer Expo on July 1, which will showcase products and services curated for LGBTQOC communities. It’s a keen celebration of the power of Black queer dollars, creativity, expertise, and unity. “Our festival events are designed to find Black queer folks and pull them out of the shadows,” said Austin. “We are educators, chefs, DJs, optometrists, mixologists, artists, doctors, dentists, therapists, and more. Our professions are vast, just like our personalities are diverse.”
OAKLAND BLACK PRIDE FESTIVAL Wed/28 to July 2. Various times and venues, Oakland. For tickets and more info go here.