‘Black is Beautiful!’: PRIDE Art Festival celebrates Black youth identity in Homewood

Surrounded by children as he told stories of Black empowerment, D.S. Kinsel posed a question to an audience outside the Homewood-Brushton YMCA.

“Who is raising all these smart Black children?” Kinsel asked.

A group of mothers standing nearby excitedly shot their hands into the air. 

The Pitt organization PRIDE, an acronym that stands for Positive Racial Identity Development in Early Education, aims to help Black children foster strong identities and community bonds through art and education. 

PRIDE hosted one of their pop-up mini art festivals to support their mission last Saturday afternoon. The weekend event was part of their 2023 return to holding the festivals in person, a tradition the pandemic halted for the past three years. 

Gabriel Gay and DJ Smi hosted the festival. It featured performances from Kinsel and Lois Toni McClendon, a community activist who taught InterPlay, a creative activity that combines music, movement and storytelling. 

Through a menage of storytelling, performance and art activities for kids focused on African heritage and culture, the festival celebrated the theme “Black is Beautiful.”

Medina Jackson, the PRIDE director of engagement and festival coordinator, said the theme ecompasses one of the main goals of the organization –– to make Black kids see their racial identity in a positive way.

“Our goal is to help young Black children and their families feel good about being Black and our festival themes reinforce that,” Jackson said. “In our work, we discuss the power and impact of racism, and we integrate and center Black joy, our resistance to oppression and the beauty that we are as Black people.” 

Patrice Singleton, a North Side resident, volunteered for PRIDE for the first time at Saturday’s festival. Singleton said she joined PRIDE because she wanted to support their mission of showing Black kids their community and culture in an affirming light. 

“This is my first time volunteering with them and you can just feel the love, the kindness and the history behind everything — it’s embedded in everything they do,” Singleton said. “Within the news, you don’t always see African Americans being positively depicted or see what’s going on in the communities. So something like this, it deals with African American history and who we are as a people and brings unity, love and kindness.”

When it comes to positive portrayals of African American history, PRIDE Educator Sister IAsia Thomas believes that the pop-up art festival and community-based events offer a freer space to teach African-centered content than traditional school settings that feel restrictive.

“When it comes to African-centered content, there’s a tension there,” Thomas said. “So this project positions us to take the early steps to resolve that.” 

In offering a space for African-centered educators and artists to teach freely, Thomas feels community events like the pop-up mini arts festival also give space for educators and artists to be themselves.

“As an African-centered educator, the ability to design learning opportunities for children with nobody saying we can’t do something just allows us to be ourselves as educators and artists and bring forward the vision that we dream for the children,” Thomas said. “To let it land in a community is a different landing than a classroom and to experience that is very comforting and beautiful.”

The beauty and empowerment of the PRIDE festival experience resonated with Kia Frazier, a Shadyside resident, who attended the festival this Saturday.

“Overall, the effect they [PRIDE] have on bringing the arts and talents to the community and just allowing people’s talents to shine — it makes space for growth and empowerment, and it makes for a beautiful experience,” Frazier said. 

The empowerment the festival creates, Frazier added, comes from visibility. In seeing different examples of booming Black art and business, the community can feel inspired.

“The children are able to see a multitude of Black businesses and just a plethora of different ways to express yourself in a positive way and that it can be turned into something more than just a moment — it can be turned into a business, an art space or something like this, a beautiful festival,” Frazier said. “It’s important not just for children to see, but the entire community too.”

This sentiment felt true for Donminika Brown, an attendee and mom who felt happy to watch her 16-year-old daughter use her artistic talents to bond with the community. Through painting children’s faces, Brown said her daughter shared in the validation and empowerment that she feels PRIDE events create. 

“I think it [the festival] validates their Blackness and gives them a stronger sense of community,” Brown said. “Being in a space where you feel valued and accepted is really important, so these types of things in the community are really important.”

As Thomas guided children through a vase painting activity, she took over holding a baby for a mom because she wanted to give the mom a chance to do an art activity herself and take a break.

In Thomas’ opinion, these feelings of value and acceptance extended to everyone who attended the pop-up art festival.

“The community gets to come into a space that’s gonna welcome them no matter what,” Thomas said.

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