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Neighborhood House staff on celebrating Black Joy

February 1, 2022

Too often, many of the stories discussed during Black History Month are tragic.  One does not have to look too hard to uncover the many times in US history that humanity was not extended to those from the African diaspora.  On top of that, many stories of Black excellence are undercut by tragic ends of our heroes, be it from the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and Fred Hampton, to those whose lives ended too short from institutional racism and systematic oppression manifesting in poor health outcomes: Madam CJ Walker, the first female self-made millionaire died at 51 from kidney failure and hypertension; Octavia Butler, Afrofuturism author who challenged gender stereotypes in American fiction, white privilege in their narrative, and racism in her profession died at 58 from a stroke; and Fannie Lou Hamer who was extorted, threatened, harassed, shot at and assaulted while fighting for her right to vote passed away at 59 from hypertension and breast cancer.

A feature from Black history that often gets overlooked is Black Joy.  Cal State Fullerton African American studies professor Mei-Ling Malone explains: “Black joy is an act of resistance.  The whole idea of oppression is to keep people down.  So, when people continue to shine and live fully, it is resistance in the context of our white supremacist world.”  Celebrating Black Joy does not erase the trauma from living in a white supremacist society.  It’s a declaration that our history does not start with the enslavement of the continent of Africa.  We are not merely the trauma we and our foremothers and fathers have experienced.  Black Joy expresses the fullness of our humanity.

The Unapologetically Black Affinity group wanted to share our thoughts on what Black Joy means to us.

“Black joy means taking pride of the struggles that my ancestors endured so that I can have access to resources that society tried to keep me from.  Black lives are not seen as an equal contributor to the advancement of the United States, but many black people are creating positions and, in some cases, being placed in positions where they are able to change policies and procedures that include not only people that look like them, but also people who don’t because we understand what it feels like to be disadvantaged.  I am proud of that.  That brings me joy.  Highlighting the advancements of other black people to me is important because it breathes life into not only other black people, but also the next generation of young talented black youth.”  

Angel Berry (Youth Advocate Supervisor)

“Black joy to me is having the freedom without judgment to pursue joy in any space.”

Dansa Jatari (Health Specialist)

“Black joy is celebrating our people and our culture without limits or labels.  Black joy is bringing our full and whole selves to the world without worry that the world will purposefully misunderstand or misrepresent us.  Black joy is your grandmother’s sweet potato recipe, scribbled in cursive on paper yellowed from time; it’s code-switching with your sisters depending on the topic, moving delicately between dialects; it’s gospel music and rock ‘n’ roll and seraphs singing, even if it’s just you alone in the room.”

Jazmine Chilo (Community Health Case Manager)

“Being the recipient of so many side-eyes as a result of my loud laugh, Black joy is finding those moments of joy, love, and acceptance and living them out to the fullest, no matter who thinks you should keep it down.”

Natalia Pierson (Community Health Supervisor)

“Black joy is our music, our beauty, our hair, and our culture.”

Shena Brim (Economic Empowerment Coach)

“Black joy is seen and felt in the togetherness that most have come to recognize as part of our community.  I think that we are all drawn to this togetherness, and it makes us happy because we can feel our own inner music or vibrations from the earth magnified within our groups of family and friends, whether we know it or not.  It is an unconscious feeling and sound that we all inherit.  This is what instills our love of music, sound, and nature.“

Syretta Warren (Center-Based Early Childhood Education Manager – High Point)

“Black Joy is listening to the sweet free words of Amanda Gorman, or the rhythmic vibes of Robert Glasper, the moves of Chris Brown, the bravery of Nipsey Hustle, and the joyful expression of black stories told by great storytellers like Issa Rae, Ryan Coogler, and Shaka King.  Like Issa Rae said, ‘I’m rooting for everybody black.”  – Reca Washington

Reca Washington (Lead Housing Advocate)

This Black History Month, I encourage you to find the moments of joy within the stories shared to honor the resilience of our foremothers and fathers.  May we notice and celebrate all of the moments of joy in our own lives as we continue our journey through this pandemic.  May your joy be an act of resistance.

By Natalia Pierson and members of the Unapologetically Black Affinity group