More than a dozen individuals were honored for their contributions to the community at NYC Black Pride’s star-studded Heritage Image Awards ceremony on August 19 at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.
The awards ceremony, which featured folks ranging from movie stars to New York City Mayor Eric Adams, coincided with NYC Black Pride’s 25th anniversary. That historic theme served as a reminder of the decades-long fight to bring recognition to the important work of Black LGBTQ people across the five boroughs.
Lee Soulja-Simmons, who leads the NYC Black Pride festivities, paid tribute to Laurence Pinckney and Kim Ford — two of the early trailblazers of NYC Black Pride — by inviting them up on stage for a moment in the spotlight.
During his opening remarks, Soulja-Simmons quoted the words of his grandfather as he explained that the heroes of the past — such as the late Stormé DeLarverie and Marsha P. Johnson — helped pave the way for today’s leaders.
Far too many young people, Soulja-Simmons explained, are not aware of the history of Black LGBTQ people.
“It’s not in the history books,” he said. “We are fighting to be noticed in the museums.”
He added, “I was lost for awhile trying to figure out my identity. I feel like every other child coming out now shouldn’t have to be and should be able to lift their heads up proud and be able to identify whichever way they choose, to live their life whichever way they choose. That’s what Black Pride means to me… I can because they did.”
Among the honorees of the evening included non-profit leaders such as Beverly Tillery, the executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, which combats violence of different forms against queer people.
“As a Black queer woman who is running an organization that is not traditionally a Black queer organization, it is a huge honor, because as you all know, Black folks running more traditional LGBTQ organizations don’t always get the support that our white counterparts do,” Tillery said. “For me, none of that really matters as long as I know my Black queer family has my back. That’s why this award means so much to me.”
The evening also brought attention to folks like Leyna Bloom, an out trans movie star and model who rose to fame through key acting roles in films such as “Port Authority” and as a model in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition.
“The whole world, for hundreds of years, has been trying to erase our magic, and we are now front and center,” said Bloom, who recalled moving from Chicago to New York City 20 years ago. “I arrived at Port Authority and came with a purpose. When I was homeless or dealing with sex work, that purpose was feeding me every single day… my purpose is to leave something on this Earth because tomorrow is not promised.”
Mayor Eric Adams presented a proclamation to Soulja-Simmons declaring August 19 to be named after the Center for Black Pride in New York.
“There won’t be another mayor in the history of this city that is going to fight on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, but [also for] a community that has been ignored and disrespected — and that’s the Black, Brown, and Latinx community,” he said. “I look over the money and dollars and say, ‘Wait a minute. We can’t handle our own business? You mean to tell me that those from this community who are a part of all areas of this battle cannot be the decision makers?’”
Adams went on to praise the work of NYC Black Pride for raising awareness and fighting for the community on health issues ranging from HIV/AIDS to the monkeypox outbreak.
The evening’s honorees also included Jack Mizrahi Gucci, Musa Jackson, Freddie Leiba, Ceyenne Doroshow, Grace Detrevarah, Ballroom We Care, Lambda Vodka, Double D Production, Kenya Hutton, Afrika C. Quarles, MJ Rodriguez, Chanel Lopez, Chi Ossé, and the Houses of LaViticus, Mizrahi, and Inifiniti. The community ally awards were given to Tillery, Bevy Smith, GOAL president Brian Downey, and Ron Zacchi, who is Governor Kathy Hochul’s LGBTQ Affairs director.