Willow Tree, a nonprofit organization that offers family services, has created a special pride event in order to give people an opportunity to celebrate both LGTBQ pride and Black culture. The event will have free LGBTQ-themed books for the first 30 families to arrive, literature with history about Black pride and free barbecued food, including vegetarian options, for all.
“I was in a Facebook group for Black people in Lansing. Someone asked if there were any Black pride events,” said Claretta Duckett-Freeman, the director of equity and inclusion at Willow Tree. “Someone kept pointing her to general pride events instead of just admitting that there are no Black pride events around here.”
She felt as though Black people have been ignored by mainstream pride events. It was difficult, too, to be forced to choose between celebrating Juneteenth or celebrating pride. She just knew that there had to be a way to honor both occasions.
Duckett-Freeman reached out to the woman posting in that Facebook group and proposed that they work together to create their own Black pride event. Both of them are young mothers with children around the same age, so they wanted to make sure the event was a place that they could bring their kids to.
“People have different ideas of what’s considered family friendly, so I wouldn’t call it that. I would say that it’s family-centered,” said Duckett-Freeman. “Because kids need to know that they should celebrate who they are. They need to see it’s normal. Sometimes you don’t even know if your kid is gay.”
With a lack of non-heterosexual role models in children’s television shows and movies, oftentimes the responsibility of normalizing LGBTQ love falls on the parents’ shoulders. Duckett-Freeman wanted to help create a space in which children can learn about all kinds of love in a gentle, supportive manner.
For that reason, the books offered at the event are aimed at children, picture books about the origins of pride and the origins of Juneteenth.
Duckett-Freeman said educating children is particularly important, because people may ignore the actual reasons that people celebrate pride. Many people forget that it started as a riot, not simply a colorful parade with rainbow flags a-waving.
“I didn’t even know that it was all about the Stonewall Riots until probably five years ago,” explained Duckett-Freeman. “That’s the history we should talk about. When I found out it was started by Black transgender women, Puerto Rican women, I was like, ‘Why is no one talking about this?’”
The first time she had heard of pride was through an episode of the ’90s sitcom “Seinfeld”. So, she only viewed pride as a joyous parade. After learning about Stonewall, she started researching and grew fascinated by the efforts of gay rights pioneers, the risks they took and the kindness that they displayed to one another.
“I wanted to learn more about these women. I was like, ‘Damn, that’s so cool!’ They did so much great stuff. They started youth centers for local runaways. It’s incredible,” said Duckett-Freeman.