Berkley Comes Together for First Ever Pride Celebration
(Crystal A. Proxmire, July 24, 2022)
Berkley, MI – “You are loved. You are Important. Never stop being you.”
Those are the words Berkley resident Brooke Kennedy wrote on the decorative pillar on Robina Street so that people of all persuasions could feel a taste of the love shared at the community’s first ever Pride celebration, held June 26.
“It’s important because I think everyone should be accepted. I want to raise my child in a place where love is accepted everywhere,” Kennedy said.
Writing on the pillars was one of many events that took place during the festival. Robina Street was closed and lined with vendor and organization tents, along with a DJ, games, food trucks, chalk art, crafts, and more. Berkley Common hosted a drag show. And there was a game where people could toss a wig onto a mannequin.
Pride events are becoming more common, yet they can still spark controversy. In Berkley residents turned out to city council meetings after Councilperson Dennis Hennen voted against closing the street for the event, equating homosexuality to sin. The road closure still passed, and the event seemed unmarred by protests or bad feelings.
“It is extremely powerful the way the residents and community have rallied around this event, no only coming out in full force, but speaking strongly in favor of it, of being able to have it. We’re all part of making history here. This is the first event, the first of many more,” said Downtown Development Authority Director Mike McGuinness. The Pride event brought thousands of people to town on a day that is normally a quiet one for businesses.
Under the tents were groups and businesses related to the LGBTQ+ community, including Affirmations Community Center, Be Well Medical Center, SAGE, Berkley First, and the Ruth Ellis Center.
Northern Guard Supporters – an independent booster group of Detroit City Football Club – also had a booth. This groups cheers on the city’s football (soccer) club which plays in Hamtramck. And their message is of inclusion among fans. “We come from all backgrounds, beliefs and traditions. We vehemently reject racism, sexism, homophobia and anything else that makes anyone feel unwelcome in our stands. The only two things we hate are hate and Oh*o. No matter where you come from, if you support City, we support you,” says the NSG website.
Jamie Johnson of Madison Heights was there spreading word not only about football but about the charity work supporters do. “We’ve got thousands of people who participate and come out on game day,” Johnson said. “We’ve got such a huge base of people we can’t not do a charity.” The group was able to raise $28,000 last year for Ruth Ellis Center, plus secure a matching grant for $25,000 through Allied. Ruth Ellis provides support services, including counseling, food, and shelter for homeless LGBTQ+ teens. “They do a lot of good here, and it’s important to give back to them,” Johnson said.
Berkley Mayor Dan Terbreck and his family were there for the celebration, showing their support first hand. “We shouldn’t have to have events like this,” he said. “We should just have everybody be accepted for who they are. But the fact that we’re able to have this, and the turnout we have here, shows what our community is really like.”
Dawn and Amy Wright have lived in Berkley for 15 years. Neighbors might know them from the plastic reindeer with the glitter-painted antlers and rainbow beads on their front lawn. The deer holds a sign with changing messages, with thoughts of hope and community.
“We’re all in this together,” was one of the messages.
“For the most part Berkley is welcoming, it’s like this,” Dawn said as she looked around at the crowd of people of all ages and backgrounds enjoying the event. “We did have one neighbor that didn’t like us, but he moved on and it’s fine now.”
While there are occasionally judgmental neighbors, there are also those who go above and beyond to share love – for their friends, their neighbors, their kids, and other people’s children they don’t even know. Jeff James is one of those people.
Sporting a “Proud Dad” shirt, James spent the afternoon handing out rainbow bracelets and postcards for Royal Oak First, a United Methodist congregation that is open and affirming. He knows that sometimes other parents have a hard time accepting when their children come out to them. That’s why he goes out to proactively share the love. And he sees the times changing. “I think that’s decreasing as time goes on, as more people talk about it,” James said. “It wasn’t that long ago that you just didn’t talk about it.”
Celebrations like the Berkley Pride Picnic help. “When people see events like this, they think, these people are not outside the culture; they’re part of the culture. And if you read history at all, they’ve always been there.”
And while LGBTQ+ people continue to face discrimination, hate, judgment, mockery, and even violence, events like Berkley Pride give people like Megan’s dad the chance to counter with a more empowering message – one that says “you are welcomed here.”
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Thank you to Jim Shaffer & Associates Realtors for sponsoring this section!