This year marks the 10th anniversary of Toledo Pride, a celebration of the LGBTQ community in northwestern Ohio. This event, spread over 3 days, is an all encompassing event of what makes up the core of this community. I’ve attended as a spectator but not with my camera. With it in hand, I went from casual observer to historian. At least I’d like to feel that what I’ve done will contribute to our history as allies in the fight against bigotry, and for acceptance. But more than that, is for the scream of the black voice within this very community.
At the start of the summer I told myself that the voice of my people needs more from me. To be honest, I’d thought about this very thing for some years now, not really aware of where to begin since my plate had little room for activism. Full time work, kids, an ex-girlfriend/ mother to children, and would be girlfriend I’d go on to let down, and a photographic practice that’s more in-the-tank than on-the-computer. I was reinventing my life while figuring out my old life. The struggle was within the juggle of all in front of me.
You only make time for what you care for.
As much as I care for black life, I didn’t think I was contributing to its growth in a meaningful way. My sons, while biracial, know what being black means and if you try to tell them otherwise, they will let you have it. Friends and family know what I’ve been through as a black male in Toledo, Ohio and would never let that happen to another. There is an understanding that black people are not a reflection of the media portrayals. And like other races, we all have a malicious seed amongst our crops.
But I think about young black people within this culture and how I could take steps forward to lessen their invisibility. Because their invisibility is mine as well.
I grew up with the same spoon fed belief that gay was a crime. This wasn’t something my folks uttered within our household, but one of the main crimes of the inner city is its lack of civil education. I shouldn’t pigeon hole the inner city because folks in small-town USA still have limited interaction with diversity unless willed. But I admit to slurs spoken as an adolescent without knowledge of their weight. My parents could have corrected me, but I grew up in a home where your ass might get tagged for calling your sibling a punk. So name calling wasn’t a thing, period. But outside the home, life was different.
Music and movies did more to introduce new vocabulary and mentalities that were left unchecked. I don’t blame hip hop as most in my generation would. I do however, blame the lack of overall education on the streets. That space really isn’t about progression and I learned how to talk that shit with the quickness.
Back to my camera and Toledo Pride. You see the world differently when your focus is on more than the parade of supporters and their establishments. I could have been like most photographers: watching the floats and catching signage written with clever messages. Or in the face of Drag Queens who are fortunate enough to be amongst fans new and old. I’m never far from my roots as a street photographer so I naturally gravitated towards the rest of what wasn’t seen: The attendants and volunteers, the teens who felt empowered amongst their own. It was beautiful to see.
I spent over 4 hours with the paraders and their celebrators. I recently found out that I have arthritis in my left foot. I didn’t take an ache and swelling seriously, and now I’m paying for it. At the end of those 4 hours, the party was still going at Promedica Park but I was down for the count. I wish I could’ve done more, but what I photographed in this small block of time will tell a story I’m willing to fall for.