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Cleveland--Over 100 people from across the United States and Canada descended on the Wyndham Hotel for the National Association of Black and White Men Together’s 27th annual convention from August 1 to 4.
The convention was comprised of ten workshops arrayed around a handful of social events across the city, intersecting with the tenth anniversary of the Cleveland Black, Gay and Proud Celebration on multiple occasions.
The unofficial start of the convention came on July 31, with the “Finding the I in the Middle of Racism” workshop, presented by Paul Hawkins of Pittsburgh and Roland Stringfellow of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
The official opening of the conference, however, featured transgender activist Pauline Park as the keynote speaker, and drew 140 people to the Wyndham’s ballroom. The North Coast Men’s Chorus also performed at the opening reception, highlighting the artistic side of Cleveland’s LGBT community.
The following night was the largest intersection with the Black, Gay and Proud Celebration, as 220 guests from both groups set sail on Lake Erie for a dinner and dancing cruise on the Nautica Queen. During the festivities, Mike Kelley, co-chair of both the local BWMT chapter People of All Colors Together and the convention committee, was given the LGBT Community Ally Award for the Black, Gay and Proud Celebration, while PACT member Isis Tiffany Soul was honored as female impersonator of the year.
The Black, Gay and Proud Awards were held the previous night, preventing Kelley from attending.
Friday was a busy day for the convention, with Walter Smith of Columbus presenting the video After Innocence and talking about positive change during the annual co-chairs’ luncheon.
In the evening, the Midland Region reception was held at Union Station, followed by the Madame X No Talent/Talent Show, hosted by the 90-year-old drag queen Madame X, who opened the show as Sally Bowles from Cabaret.
The convention ended Saturday with a closing banquet and awards ceremony, which brought 120 people out for dinner, including State Rep. Sandra Williams of Cleveland. The Wyndham, a member of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, provided a table of complimentary hors d’oeuvres during a cocktail hour before the banquet, and dancing followed the end of event.
The convention was not simply a chance to get together with friends, dine on sumptuous food and tour of the city on Lolly the Trolley, however. Along the course of four days, ten workshops were presented on a myriad number of topics, including HIV prevention strategies, transgender issues, personal mythology, queer youth, lesbian and bisexual women, homophobia and acceptance in the black church and diversity as a business tool.
The convention’s theme was “Diversity: A Mosaic in Motion,” and the organizers carried that string throughout the week.
"The National Association of Black and White Men Together has evolved so far beyond their name," Kelley said. "Everybody was represented at this year's convention--black, white, Asian, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender."
"Diversity is not a static thing," he said, explaining the theme. "It's constantly moving, changing, adjusting to the currents in society, and PACT Cleveland and the NABWMT exemplify that diversity."