Ferndale kicks off Pride month with annual festival

Hundreds of people walked along Nine Mile Road and Allen Street last Saturday afternoon in downtown Ferndale, with bursts of rainbow colors popping weaving through the crowd in the form of shirts, flags, necklaces, and other accessories.


Organized in 2011, Ferndale Pride kicks off the month of June, which also happens to be Pride Month, with its annual festival. According to the event website, more than 15,000 people attend yearly for the street fair and events leading up to the festival. In addition to the street fair, other activities include a 5k Rainbow Run, a DJ dance stage, an arts and crafts bazaar, and a tobacco cessation area for those who want to quit smoking.


Several businesses and organizations have tables set up along the fair route, one of them being the Michigan chapter of Pride at Work. The national nonprofit protects workers’ rights for the LGBTQ community, as well as promote equality and inclusion in the workplace. Will Daniels, an organizer for Pride at Work, said he wanted to be a part of the festival to inform attendees about the organization. He has been working for Pride at Work for almost two years and was one of the people to help bring the organization out of hiatus in 2015. The chapter meets on the third Thursday of every month at the Affirmations community center in Ferndale.


There’s a lot of folks who work service worker jobs who have never worked with the union before,” Daniels says. “We want to make sure people are being treated fairly at work and that they don’t face discrimination, and we also want to outreach to folks who may have never heard of us before, and those who want to get involved with labor activism.”


A few tables down sits Andrea Davis, an instructor at Bikram Yoga in Ferndale. The fitness studio chain offers “hot yoga,” a 90-minute class where members do a series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises in a room heated to 105 degrees. This is the first time Bikram Yoga is participating in the event, as the Ferndale location opened in March. Davis says the studio wanted to show its support because “we love being a part of the Ferndale community.”


Nine Mile is the busiest area of Ferndale Pride, as the small stretch of road is filled with people, vendors, food trucks, a stage and dance area, and additional tables. Alone at a table filled with booklets and two rainbow flags hanging in the back is Hayley Witzke, a board member of the Detroit chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. The organization provides support groups for LGBTQ families. Witzke has been working with PFLAG for two years, often making appearances at Pride events to inform attendees. She describes Ferndale Pride as “a safe place for our community; it's a day of love, openness.”


Also making an appearance at the festival was Beaumont Health. Covering the table was a tablecloth in the company’s trademark blue and white colors, as well as pamphlets and a bowl of granola bars. The organization has participated in Ferndale Pride for the past five years, said Cheryl Webster, the director of hospitality at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. This year, the company wanted to inform others on advance health care directives, a document that specifies healthcare actions a person wishes to take when they can no longer do so themselves.


“It’s important to be a part of our community,” said Webster. “Beaumont is a very diverse organization, and we’re very proud of all the different people that are a part of our team. And we want to reach out to our community when it comes to health care services.”


Attendees were also enjoying the day, as Allen Yaldo walked down Nine Mile with his two friends. The Chicago resident made a trip to Michigan for a wedding, and his friends persuaded him to stay an extra day to visit the festival. Yaldo said he likes that Ferndale Pride isn’t as crowded as the festivals in Chicago, and that the police department is a major participant in the event.


“I come from a city where we have a big problem with the police,” said Yaldo. And in Chicago, the situation between the civilian and the police; there isn’t that connection. And just seeing the police here participating and making a connection with the community is beautiful.”


Yaldo said being at Ferndale Pride is a way where he can express himself freely and be comfortable. The 27-year-old is gay, and has been out of the closet for seven years. Coming from an Iraqi family, he was scared that his parents would have a negative reaction to his coming out. Surprising Yaldo, his parents fully supported him.

“My family didn’t really understand what was going on, but they accepted me for who I am, and I was blessed with that. Middle Eastern families kinda reject that, but they were like, ‘I’m not going to love you any less.’ That really touched me. I dream of a world where gender, sexual orientation, race, religion is not a problem, ‘cause at the end of the day, we’re all one.”

Read more articles by Micah Walker.

Micah Walker is a Metro Detroit-based journalist.