Denver Black Queer Collective makes space for joy, friendship, healing

Nneka Uwudia Bradford’s venture into Denver’s LGBTQ community often resulted in the 29-year-old being the only Black person in the room.

“That’s uncomfortable,” Uwudia Bradford said. “That doesn’t feel inclusive. Most queer spaces in Denver are white-centered.”

Last year during Pride, Uwudia Bradford heard about a queer cookout exclusively for people of color hosted by the Denver Black Queer Collective.

Being around a group of queer, Black people made Uwudia Bradford realize she had never been in a space surrounded by people like her, and the safety and joy she felt began healing a wound she didn’t realize was aching in the first place.

“It feels like such a sacred space because I never had just a big group of Black, queer peers,” Uwudia Bradford said.

Jacob Smith, 25, started the Denver Black Queer Collective in February 2021 after searching for a Black, queer community in Denver and coming up short. Due to the pandemic, the Collective started out building community through online events and has since expanded to in-person gatherings — to celebrate, to converse, to support and learn.

Through word-of-mouth and a focus on building one-on-one relationships among members, the Collective has grown to about 400 Black, queer Coloradans finding friendship and creating the support systems they’ve always wanted.

Smith hopes the Collective is a reminder that even within marginalized communities like Denver’s LGBTQ scene, there is room to diversify and do better by the different kinds of people who make up those spaces.

“We can’t have collective power unless we have meaningful relationships,” Smith said.

One practice Smith instated to foster those relationships: when someone comes to an event, they commit to a one-on-one meeting with someone else there. Smith pointed to this unique initiative as one of the Collective’s keys to success.

“It’s one thing to go to Pride events and drink and have fun, and I think so many people have been a part of that but when these [racial justice] uprisings and pandemic happened, people were looking for spaces to heal and process and care and find that sense of community, so this Collective has provided everything and more during these times,” Smith said.

Mysha Bishop, 25, said they have cultivated strong relationships through the Collective — people they can call in the middle of the night if needed. Bishop found the group through Facebook and attended one of their in-person meetings this year, pleased to get away from events marketed for people of color that ended up being predominantly white spaces.

Instead, Bishop found camaraderie.

When Bishop’s girlfriend had surgery and Bishop was struggling to take care of her, work and deal with their own chronic pain, Bishop said members of the Collective stepped up to take care of the couple, no questions asked.

“I’ve made a lot of different connections and also have had conversations that I feel like I have’t been able to have before,” Bishop said.

Smith’s favorite Denver Black Queer Collective event is the ongoing “soulful conversations.” These are sober spaces in which the group picks a monthly theme to discuss such as combating gender roles, consent or how masculinity shows up in the Black community.

“Sometimes those are hard conversations where people don’t agree or they have different opinions or people are vulnerable and express emotions they don’t have another safe space to say them in or they learn things about themselves,” Uwudia Bradford said.

Uwudia Bradford’s favorite events in the Collective are the cookouts, which welcome queer people of color including Indigenous, Latino and Asian people, too.

“Food is a necessity, but when you enjoy food with loved ones, it elevates the whole thing,” Uwudia Bradfor said. “Food, drinks, music, dancing. It’s top-notch. It’s just fun, and we need fun.”

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The next cookout is scheduled for 6 p.m. on June 30 at Fort Greene bar, featuring catered food and a DJ. For more details on this event or upcoming ones, visit the Denver Black Queer Collective’s Meetup page which lists the organization’s calendar of events.

Uwudia Bradford appreciates that the Collective celebrates Black joy and uplifting members of the Black community rather than only focusing on trauma or overcoming adversity.

“We center joy, but you can also come as you are, and sometimes we’re all going through things, and we’re supportive of that, too,” Uwudia Bradford said.

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