This Pride Month is bringing countless joyous celebrations to a Bay Area eager to revel in-person once again. Among the major events slated for the conclusion of June is Oakland Black Pride’s Pride Month Festival, a week-long series of events centered on platforming and celebrating the many crucial contributions to the Gay Rights Movement made by Black activists. Among the planned festivities are a Queer Pub Crawl, The Black Pride Party, and a Black “MasQueerade” Gala which will unfold over the course of the next week.
Oakland Black Pride, the organization behind this Pride Month Festival, is an Oakland-based nonprofit whose three keystone initiatives - the Springboard Program, QTPOC Wellness Circle, and the Oakland Black Pride Festival - all seek to attend to and remedy the adversity faced by those at the intersection of Black and queer identities.
Olaywa K. Austin, Oakland Black Pride’s Founder and CEO, very generously answered some of our questions regarding Oakland Black Pride’s history, guiding philosophy, and this year’s Pride Festival.
Did you always envision yourself engaging in community outreach and cultural strategy work, or did your current passions/focuses manifest later in life? If the latter, how so/what catalyzed those passions?
I’ve always been an organizer. Even as a young person, I’ve been able to gather people. I’ve known for a while now that I was called to do something that involved my ability to attract people and motivate them.
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What was the impetus for / what inspired your incorporation of creative design logic into Oakland Black Pride’s programs?
Creative design is a broad designation. As I see it, it’s the concept of shaping the visual aspect of something (could be a person, service or product) in an effort to establish an identity or build a brand. I began using creative design logic in my case management work at Mather Rehabilitative and Transitional Housing Program as I was looking for ways to support my clients on their path to recovery. The majority of our clients were Black people and in addition to their addiction, most had arrest records and some were HIV or HCV positive. These very specific needs required nuanced solutions and not unlike the clients at Mather, the community that Oakland Black Pride serves is at a very critical intersection that also requires solutions and resources tailored to their needs.
Design Thinking looks like a really compelling framework (and reminded me of some critical theory ideas regarding envisioning radical alternatives by escaping the myths/ideology of the status quo). How has implementing Design Thinking impacted/benefitted what Oakland Black Pride does? Has there been a certain moment in which its value became particularly apparent?
I too, am a student of critical theory and design thinking is not a far leap. Oakland Black Pride was modeled using product design and some industrial design theory. OBP in this case, is the product that provides services that solve a customer's problems or address their needs. The specific needs of a community encourage the exploration of new alternatives. Those new alternatives create options that haven’t existed before. And that’s really all design thinking is. After our inaugural festival last year, we were able to speak the language, understand the context and culture of the stakeholders involved and diagnose problems. THEN develop resources and provide services to actually solve those problems. It was then apparent the value of design thinking.
How did COVID-19 influence OBP’s founding (for our readers, Oakland Black Pride was founded at the height of the pandemic in 2020)? Was the pandemic one of the motivating factors behind OBP's founding (did COVID-19 bring into starker relief the necessity for more robust networks of care and support for the East Bay’s most vulnerable communities) or was it primarily an obstacle?
Covid-19 allowed me to zoom in on the ever-widening gap in resources and services available and safely accessible to Black people that self-identify as LGBTQIA+.
Did Oakland Black Pride encompass the three programs on which it’s now centered (for our readers, the Springboard Program, QTPOC Wellness Circle, and Oakland Black Pride Festival) at the outset? If not, how has it evolved over the past couple of years into what it is today?
We used the Black Pride Festival to introduce ourselves last year and then used that platform to observe and gather qualitative data. The data was used to define REAL problems and needs within the community. We then ideated and brainstormed new solutions and voilà the Springboard Program and QTPOC Wellness Circle were born.
Is there an event on the agenda for the Oakland Black Pride Celebration that you’re especially excited for?
The Queer Expo! Saturday, June 25th from 11 a.m. - 4pm. Having the opportunity to connect with those who provide products and services curated exclusively for our Black and Brown, LGBTQ+ communities is essential and watching the power of the Black, queer dollar is a whole vibe. Also, I'm very excited about Black Masq, the MasQueerade Gala on Sunday, June 26th. It's our premiere Pride season event that blends sophisticated dress, mysterious masks and striking performances for an evening of splendor and intrigue. Check out our website www.oaklandblackpride.org for details.
See the full schedule for the Black Pride Festival here!
Photography by: Monstera/Pexels