Movies. Basketball. Political justice. Community. Strong, energized women. Atlanta Pride. Chances are, one of these things speaks to you. So put your six-year-old Wii console on Craigslist, sell some candy bars for a fake sports team, and walk, carpool, or fly to Atlanta, Georgia this weekend.
Filmmaker Nneka Onuorah has organically put together the type of dream event that politicians and brands pursue with the simultaneous desperation and careful planning of a pining teenager. It began when WNBA team the Atlanta Dream approached Onuorah about screening her documentary, The Same Difference, at their arena. Nneka’s debut film tackles the touchy topic of gender roles and the expectations that emanate not only from society overall, but that also populate the LGBTQ community, especially among women of color. In the trailer, you will recognize echoes of statements you have heard during gossip sessions with friends and spats with lovers. The film has screened in 67 cities and has both a digital and television future in the works.
Together, Nneka and the Dream have put together an easy sell for a good Sunday at the arena: a ticket to the afternoon film screening gets you into the evening basketball game. In between kicking back in stadium seats with a beer, Nneka’s coalition will stream down to a rally in nearby Piedmont Park, where a community festival with an expected attendance of up to 36,000 people will celebrate the 10th anniversary of Atlanta Black Pride. Nneka describes the festival as a mix of musical performances, speakers, parties, DJs, drinks, and dancing, but also as a moment for the community to “stand with each other… and celebrate our queerness, our blackness, our pride, and everything else… Atlanta’s the perfect place for that.”
The rally on Sunday, under the banner of We Are All Women, will advocate justice for black LGBT women. If rallies strike you as a mix of tortuous standing and listening to people preach platitudes to the choir, then Nneka’s mission for the rally offers a fresh purpose. The speakers, all black LGBT women, are not merely wide-eyed dreamers with good intentions. Onuorah met many of them at the White House. After being invited there “for black LGBT people and African-American education,” she connected with other young leaders from across the country during seminars with the National Education Association. These young leaders “really [got] to the bottom of things” and “pulled together.” As a result, Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks (Executive Director & CEO, National Black Justice Coalition), Nadine Smith (Executive Director of Equality Florida), Park Cannon (Georgia State Representative), Toni-Michelle Williams (Program Coordinator of Solutions NOT Punishment Coalition), and Pastor Pamela K. Williams (Ark of Refuge Tabernacle) will take the podium Sunday. Nneka anticipates that these leaders will “instill confidence and power to my community that our voice matters” and foster concrete action. They are visual, direct confirmation that people are actively creating change and have a wealth of knowledge on the best tools for doing so.
Nneka’s emphasis on visibility and empowerment as building blocks for action is a practical approach utilized by someone with experience in the trenches: the media trenches. She was at BET for six-and-a-half years, where she worked on music specials and Black Girls Rock. During this time, she witnessed barriers that prevent the representation of the black LGBT community in media. At many networks, executives do not think that audiences care about black LGBT characters, nor do they consider that this community is interested in seeing themselves reflected on screen. To Nneka, these barriers were a call to action:
“I wanted to have my voice, the way I saw the world, and how I wanted the world to change to be expressed through my work. From that point, I quit, and I said, ‘All those voids that I see in that space I was in, I’m going to help fill them. Through using my own voice to impact my community.'”
It is exciting to think that a community—especially a marginalized community—can have connections to a major sports league and to the White House. While there are plenty of floats at Los Angeles Pride reminding you that this or that bank has a rainbow-themed credit card, it is rarer to see dedicated political activism. Hopefully, Nneka’s tactics will inspire others. Citing the upcoming presidential election and the healthcare, safety, educational, and repression challenges that the LGBTQ community faces, she stresses the powerful opportunities of solidarity:
“It’s never been a more perfect time for our voices to be heard, in a state where we’re together and we’re with each other and we’re growing, and so it’s time to feel our political power—that we have power if we stand together.”
Tickets for the Atlanta event are available now.