"We’re not only protesters with nothing else guiding our lives. We have whole lives that include love, family, healing and joy. All of it should be celebrated."
In this year of 2020 it seems mayhem and foolishness have been the order of the day. Between a pandemic, a social justice push, rising racial tensions, and political division, we have found ourselves separated from friends and loved ones, stressed and stretched thin, economically challenged, and living way outside of what we recognize as normal boundaries. Our comfort zones have either disappeared or have been taken over.
For me 2020 was supposed to be a year of positive challenges, saying yes to myself more often for an improved and more well-rounded self. In other words, “I had plans”! I bet you did too. Now with the holidays approaching some are facing more challenges. Do we get together as family? What about our traditions, the big soul food meal, with Grandma’s (insert favorite dish here)?
In all of this I’m hoping we’ve remembered, or at least tried, to take a break from all the heaviness. Remembered to breathe, to unwind. Working in a library, I turned to materials to find the escape route. As with other things in life though I began to notice a trend. Books on topics of the day, great resources for conversations of the day, seemed to dominate and reinforce what was going on in the community. Books on racism, anti-racism, social justice coming through in both fiction and non-fiction. Movies were being made quickly about people living through the Coronavirus. Television shows returned with Coronavirus and social justice plot lines…to keep it real. Everything seem to focus on the seriousness of life and forget that we are not one dimensional beings. Even in the year of 2020 everyday life and good things still happen. Joy still happens!
This is the part where I make it all about the books! I decided to do a search for Black Joy in our books. I’ve decided Black Joy is a title, almost a genre in itself, so I give it capitals like a proper noun because it’s a thing. An important thing. As a group, Black people are not only defined by our suffering and oppressions. We’re not only protesters with nothing else guiding our lives. We have whole lives that include love, family, healing and joy. All of it should be celebrated. Let’s take a look at what Black Joy can look like with a few selections.
Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes
Black joy is present in the times we learn to love ourselves and truly walk into our own truths. Shonda Rhimes took a simple statement from her sister, “You never say yes to anything” and turned it into a life changing challenge to herself. It happened on a Thanksgiving Day while preparing dinner, and was said in only the way family can get your attention. I do audiobooks and the experience was like listening to a friend sharing her journey and being encouraged by it. There’s moments of laughter and I may have had a teary moment, but the overall feeling was a great one. Initially I avoided this
book. After all what could Shonda Rhimes really tell me? We’re so different, right? Turns out after reading I saw myself in a lot of her experiences. Not the actual events but the feelings and thought processes that go with it. Although I didn’t get to completely have my own Year of Yes in 2020, I accepted the challenge and found other ways to practice being my own person. I recommend it to anyone, the book and the challenge of it. Step outside of what’s comfortable and say yes to some new possibilities. Try it by yourself or in a group. Chat with family over the holiday and set up a virtual challenge. Maybe you’re the one who puts someone on notice, “You never say yes to anything.”
Let Love Rule by Lenny Kravitz with David Ritz
If there could be a poster boy for Black Boy Joy (it’s a thing) Lenny Kravitz would be on the top of my list. What is Black Boy Joy? It’s Black men and boys living freely and accepting self regardless of stereotypes and what others may choose for them. See, Lenny Kravitz! You have to read the book. He didn’t start out as the rock star we see today, but his process is an interesting one.
Again I did the audiobook and I may have turned fan girl, he narrates and does sing at one point, but I enjoyed hearing about his early years. For those who do not know his mother was actress Roxy Roker, Helen Willis from The Jeffersons in the 70s/early 80s. Learning about her family and so much more about her as an entertainer was interesting They had a special relationship, he’s definitely a mama’s boy. I could feel their closeness and understand the part she plays in who he becomes. He had a trying relationship with his father but remained close with extended family even after his parents divorced. He and his father seemed to bond around music and that influence is felt as he grew up. There are stories of other famous people who were in his orbit having grown up around showbiz friends of family. All these things seem to empower him to live life in his truth.
The music industry tends to categorize people based on looks and not necessarily where your talent lies. It would have been easy to try and force him in a box of R&B with crossover potential but Lenny became a rock star. He chose the non-stereotyped route for a Black musician, stayed true himself and has been embraced by success.
Black Joy is an act of resistance. It’s teachable right alongside the importance of voting, of using the power of their voice, and learning how to stand up to racism. It’s a health aid right alongside learning how to wash hands properly and wear masks. It matters in a world that sees Black characters only as sidekicks, never leads capable of love, being the center surrounded by friends, solid family and a healthy view of self. These titles give a variety of the Black experience through youth.
Smash It! By Francina Simone and You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson bring fresh perspectives to YA (Young Adult, or Teen) Fiction. Smash It! gives a nod to Year of Yes with the main character launching her own personal version. This description by publisher Inkyard Press as “an Othello retelling inspired by Shonda Rhimes’s Year of Yes.” Author Leah Johnson describes Black Joy in relation to You Should See Me in a Crown, “Black joy is at the heart of all the work I do. I want to capture Black girls, particularly Black queer girls, as their whole selves.”
My last two are for the kids. I am Everything Good by Derrick Barnes and Hair Love by Matthew A Cherry.I really enjoyed I am Everything Good. I love the inclusion of a Black boy as the main character and the promotion of healthy self-esteem and the possibilities for him. Hair Love is a favorite of many. As a film short it won an Oscar. So the audiobook deserved something special. The narrator happens to be daughter of Beyonce and Jay-Z, Blue Ivy Carter. I enjoyed her reading, a welcomed change from adults reading as children.
There are so many great authors and books that are opening the doors to expressions of Black Joy. I’m enjoying discovering new authors and how they present new perspectives. This holiday season give yourself a break and explore what’s out there. The outside world and its troubles can spare you for a short time. Share these experiences with family and friends, or keep it to yourself
Peace and Blessings…Happy Holidays!
#OwnVoices at Richland Library is a way for African American staff to provide thoughtful and well written book reviews, book lists and blog posts to promote African American authors and their work about the African American experience. The series invites our customers to learn one more way we are continuing the conversation in our community and speaking our voice. Find more resources on race, equity and inclusion, here.