Photo Credit: I AM BLACKSTONE by LMS Designs
Antonio Abrams is the founder and proprietor of Blackstone Avenue Marketing, a party promotions company he started four ago. Blackstone Avenue refers to the street that Abrams hung out as a youth on the Southside of Chicago. Abrams will host the Black Party, a night of fashion, music, and art to benefit Chicago’s homeless families. Abrams talked to PrideIndex about why he started the promotions company and discussed his life’s personal mantra.
PRIDEINDEX (PI): Why did you start Blackstone Avenue Marketing Group?
ANTONIO ABRAMS (AA): Blackstone Avenue Marketing Group was started by me and a group of friends who want to change the face of our community. We want to do is bridge the gap of between the community through cultural events and having different kinds of parties and concerts. When I say bridge the gap what I mean is that we don’t want an environment where there is only gay or straight, black or white but we want to do things that incorporate all communities into one; and in doing so we want to give back to those communities that we serve.
PI: When did it get started?
AA: I worked for AT&T Corp for about 12 years and used to do events for that organization. After I’d left that organization and having visited Atlanta each year I saw all the things they were going on so I started to work with some of the organizations such as the Atlanta Pride Gay Pride and thought to myself, “why can’t we do some of those things here in Chicago?” and so that brought forth Blackstone Avenue marketing.
PI: Do you have any associations with Black Pride in Chicago?
AA: I don’t have any involvement with Windy City Black Pride (WCBP) or Chicago Windy City Black Pride (CWCBGP) as far as holding a position; however I have counseled the Windy City Black Pride (WCBP) and helped with some of the planning for their park event.
PI: What is the signature Blackstone Avenue Marketing event?
AA: When you say a signature event are you referring the Trina concert or the Chanté Moore concert or the Lil Mo event? So if you were in Chicago one of our signature events was the Trina concert which took place in 2010 or if you are in Atlanta the signature concert would have been the Chanté Moore concert which took place in 2011.
PI: So what can we expect in 2012 or 2013?
AA: I have a concert series called the Real Music Concert Series and what that entails is a series that features artist such as Chanté Moore, Ledisi and couple of others who we bring in and feature them as the main act with a local talent.
PI: You mentioned Chanté Moore and Trina they’re both mainstream artist who are LGBT friendly but something I rarely hear club promoters talk about are events that showcase independent LGBT Artist. How come?
AA: It is kind of funny that you should say that because there is a group of guys called (NAME WITHHELD) that I think are very talented artists I am helping them out along the way in this early stage of their career. A lot of times the openly gay independent artist are hard to sell especially when you are trying to bridge the gap because a lot of people don’t want to book them because some say audiences don’t want to hear them sing about sexually oriented stuff. When we did the event featuring Lil’ Mo and Selena Johnson in 2009 there was an artist we brought in from New York called Bad News what I liked about his performance was that his music was not just for gays and people responded to it. I wanted to support Bad News 110% just like I support (NAME WITHHELD). I think that some promoters shy away LGBT independent artist but if they keep on reaching out to me I will make sure that I connect them to the right people as long as the artist doesn’t mind talking a little bit of direction.
PI: Let’s talk about you, who is Antonio Abrams?
AA: The most important thing people should know about me is that I am gay. I have an 18 year old son, so I am not just gay I am also a father and the father comes first. I think that’s important for people to see people like me both in and outside this community. I do not walk around with a gay pride flag on my shoulders at first but when issues come up that affect the gay community or do something to disrespect us I have to say “wait a minute, hold on a second.”
People should also know that I follow my dreams and live by the philosophy that you always have to try to reach the goals that you set. Failure is one of those things that sometimes happen and if you can get out of the valley low and you have to go through those lows and learn, before you can reach the mountain top. So what others might deem to be failures I look at it on the flip side and say at least somebody tried.
In my everyday personal life I have worked customer service for 12 years at AT&T as a manager so I pretty much know how to deal with all sorts of people. I have worked around many artist in a concert setting and I am a family man. People should also know that I have owned my own home since I was 19 years of age and I have an identical twin brother, and just love being around my family.
I am a direct, in-your-face-person and you cannot just tell me anything. The hardest thing for me to deal with is that some folks expect for you to laugh with them and never challenge them or be direct or say “no.” Sometimes folks shun me because they say I am too direct and will speak out publically. I am just one of those strong men who love challenges.
PI: What is the significance of Blackstone Avenue?
AA: I used to live on Harper Avenue on Chicago’s Southside when I was younger I used to hang out on Blackstone Avenue to kick it and have a good time. There will always be good memories of Blackstone Avenue. And I wanted to make sure that no matter what city I went into there was a little bit of Chicago in me. (Laughs)
PI: Are you an activist?
AA: I would not say that I am an activist. I would never give myself that kind of credit. I think that it takes a lot to stand up for yourself and if I see an injustice I will definitely stand up and speak on it.
PI: There’s a Facebook group called Gay Lesbian Chicago Chat (GLCC) that had a series of post on what happened at Jackson Park involving the Chicago Police shutting down the park at random. You spoke out about the issues tell us more about that and what ever became of your meeting with the Alderman?
AA: The GLCC is a group that I started on Facebook to just start to talk about some of the things that were going on in our community. One of those hot topics that kept coming up was about how black gay and lesbian youth keep getting thrown out of the park and other places we would go to because of the violence and because folks do not understand our community. What I tried to do was to have the older adults in our group to come to the park and have a great time so that we could show the gay youth that we could come to the park and have a good time without all of the violence. We (the older adults) had a couple of peaceful barbeques, with no fights or problems at all.
There was one time at the beginning of the summer season where the Chicago Police came and shut us down and which surprised me because there was no violence. They (the Chicago Police) came in and talked about ticketing people, and were starting arguments or were just rude for no reason. I reached out to the alderman and my emails went unanswered. I tried to have conversation with community leaders and found out there were laws and things we could do to fix the situation but right after the police shut down the park a large group of kids left the park and went to a different parking lot and began a fight. I was dumbfounded. I did go back to the GLCC and blast that sort of behavior because we do not want the Jackson Park to be like every other location we go to and kicked out of because of rowdy behavior.
PI: Do you plan on having another peaceful barbeque?
AA: Yes, the group had many peaceful barbeques and we will likely do it again next year.
PI: What’s next for Blackstone Avenue Marketing?
AA: We’re going to have the Black Party a night of fashion, music, and art benefit to feed Chicago’s homeless families during the holidays on November 17. The event will happen at Club Vintage from 10:00PM-3:00AM cost is $10. You are more than welcome to join us if you can for the event. We will do more concerts and stuff to take everything to a different level. For a listing of my events or projects that we are working on please visit facebook.com/antonio.abrams