Newark PROUD 2020- Pandemic Edition
JUNE DOWELL-BURTON, MSW, LSW
Since 2013, Urban&Out has partnered with Newark Pride Inc. to present the annual Newark PROUD Awards. This year, Newark PROUD is a yearlong celebration, beginning this Pride Week as we check in with partners and past honorees on how they are meeting the challenges of the pandemic.
In creating Newark Gay Pride in 2005, it's Founder not only changed her life, but transformed a city by placing its LGBTQ community at its center.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you and your family?
Prior to its naming, my wife-who is a nurse- already suspected that she had it back in early January. I work from home but we have two new foster children who were placed with us in May. No daycares are open and homeschooling is a must which makes it difficult for me to do my work. Our health is good but we miss our relatives. My only granddaughter turned one year old in April and we missed her birthday party. We were going to visit my mother who lives in Las Vegas, but now their numbers are up. So staying home is the best thing we can do only going out for necessities.
How long have been involved with Newark Pride and how did you get involved?
I’m the founder of Newark Gay Pride and have been involved with it since 2005.
This 15th anniversary celebration for Newark Pride is a huge milestone, it’s like your baby has grown up. How has your life changed and how has LGBTQ Newark changed since you founded Pride?
I know….. sometimes I must pinch myself not because I can’t believe we are here but how we’ve impacted not only the LGBTQ culture in Newark but the culture of Newark I’ve always said that Newark Gay Pride was more than an event; it was a movement. LOL at someone using that tagline now. *flattery* Cory Booker, the former mayor of Newark and former 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, knew that raising the rainbow flag at Newark City Hall was important and a game changer not only for Newark but his political support base. All eyes are on Newark and its prominent LGBTQ leaders- Marco Hall, fashion designer; Sharronda Wheeler, NGP president; Lynette LaShawn, Off the Hanger fashion entrepreneur; the late Rodney Gilbert, art extraordinaire; Darnell L Moore, activist and author No Ashes in the Fire…and I’m sure I could find many more names to add to this list.
Everything in my life changed because of Newark Gay Pride. I’ve had to learn how to raise a baby and watch her grow. I’ve had to learn how to trust others and be vulnerable and open myself up to the wonderfulness that is community organizing. You can’t move mountains alone. I’ve also found my purpose which is constantly evolving yet staying in the realm of LGBTQ social justice.
Founders are a very special kind of leaders. What lessons did you learn about leadership from founding Newark Pride?
In one of my leadership programs, they asked are leaders born or made? I feel the answer to the question is both. I know I always spoke up for justice moreso for others than myself. After the death of Sakia Gunn, I knew I had to do something to make Newark better. Back then, I was thinking from a short term micro-sense of organizing not realizing its true potential for long lasting positive outcomes. Being a transplant in Newark was hard and trying to move something such as Pride needed buy in from some key stakeholders. Being a novice, I let everyone in the door thinking they held some clout. KNOW THE CHANGE MAKERS AND PEOPLE OF INFLUENCE. LISTEN BEFORE SPEAKING. SILENCE ISN'T A BAD THING. But as a veteran organizer, I know how to discern and quell toxic entities---- even when that entity was me. I surrounded myself with people who were ACTIVATED and not those who were digging holes. I’ve also learned that you don’t always have to say what you are thinking and be careful what you say and to whom you say it. I’ve never had a problem owning what I say --- I just hope the person who repeated what I said got it right. But they probably didn’t. Lastly, TRUST YOUR GUT! If it doesn’t feel right, talking yourself into whatever the situation may be means that something is wrong. FIND A MENTOR and PLANT SOME SEEDS. You can’t stay on the top tier forever. It’s okay to let go.
Favorite Pride moment(s)?
One of my favorite Pride memories include Darnell L Moore’s speech where he talked about the behind the scene agonies of Pride. It touched my heart because we produce this event, still on a shoestring budget compared to most Prides. Newark Gay Pride is an all volunteer organization, so when Darnell mentioned tears falling and stress thresholds being tested --- I was surprised. I really didn’t think anyone was paying attention. His sentiment to the audience was be thankful not hateful.
Although I wasn’t able to attend, my second favorite Pride moment was being invited by President Obama to attend Pride on the Lawn at the White House. How many folks can say that the POTUS sent them or their organization anything? LOL I can!
Lastly, I simply enjoy the parades. This was a component brought back to Newark Gay Pride Week and every year it gets bigger and bigger. The energy from the crowd leading into the park is so invigorating.
What has this pandemic taught you about leadership?
This pandemic has taught me that empathy and compassion go a long way. In addition, change is the mother of invention. Everyone these days is multi-tasking. I now have a family of three with one on the way. It’s okay to say I can’t handle everything being thrown on my plate and I need some help. Great leaders are always great empathizers and delegators.
Check out all of Newark Pride 2020
Photo:Newark Pride, Inc.