Home Opinion What Joy is, What Joy is Not.

What Joy is, What Joy is Not.

I want the constant nostalgic feel of Black youth joy —not periodically, no waves. Persistent Black Joy.

Jeremy Payne and Sakara Wages. Illustrations by Isha Camara.

Josh Odam, Blaqueer Mental Health, Suicide Survivor, Trauma Informed Life Coach, Proponent of Radical Softness quoted Toni Cade Bambara on Instagram. The quote resonated well. It reads ‘As a cultural worker who belongs to an oppressed people my job is to make revolution irresistible’…I say Joy is revolution and we must make it irresistible as well. 

This week’s lead has been oddly familiar in terms of processing the trauma slang. Between processing a local Black adolescent first-degree homicide charge…potentially as an adult, watching the terrorism in the new anthology Them, making peace with the passing of the heaven sent instrument – cultural orater like no other…Earl Simmons ‘Dark Man X – DMX’, learning about the killing of 20 year old Daunte Wright at the hands of law enforcement (*During Derek Chauvin trial, also within close proximity to George Floyd and Philando Castile death sites), and just trying to figure out how to fully be during a global pandemic has been teeewwwwee much. I send my deepest condolences to the Wright Family and all impacted systemic-structural violence felt across many communities. I find myself highly functional in my daily moves, but disrupted within. A concede that will never be normal. I had to circle back to a free write a friend named Sakara Wages suggested I take on to discuss the topic of joy. Had to draw back on this writing experience to take care of my mind. 

And so joy we reflect…

Joy for me is an undeniable alignment of body, mind, and spirit. It is being locked in connection to mindless exploration. Physically resting in the bliss of a carefree flower bed. With birds. Many birds. Birds of varied sizes, colors, and types. Soaring, gliding, hovering, rippling, and flush. With beautiful sounds. Buzzing, whistle, rattle and hoot. Joy is watch. Listen. Feeling. Simultaneously detached and connected from deep within. Spiritually committed to not restraining, but just experiencing. In total intimacy. Merging ancestral faith in real time. Emancipatory in its resistant function of autonomy, rejection of toxic consumerism experiences, and transcendence of white supremacy’s slow-moving strip of life. Joy is the ultimate disclose of oneness with the best of life. Youthful in nature. 

Roast Sessions, Slap Boxing, & Foot Races, Oh My!

At youth, particularly in middle school and high school (01-07’), I can remember the waves of joyful moments. The mindless separation of laughter and hardships. Unconsciously rejecting respectability, leaning fully into the idea of what it means to live your best life. Walking valiantly into the fullness of what it means to live well as best told through my eyes. I grew up a great deal of time in an adjacent Chicago suburb, Blue Island IL. Good ole’ Cook County. Most populous county in the state. Existing through the projected destruction of what the Y2K was supposed to bring, sitting anxiously in assembly gatherings to watch in live time as human bodies flung themselves from tall burning buildings, and departing for first college unknowns as my family bear the secondary burden of the Stock Market and Housing Crash of 2008. Challenges alongside the ever presence of Black Joy. 

In light of these historical moments, I recall flashes of joy the most. Black youthful music, art, humor, the culture. Oh, the culture. Transitioning through young adulthood, I recall many meetings after school at Hart Park located on 123rd and Western Avenue. I remember the sound of lawnmowers, luxurious smell of bright green grass, rustic clink clank knock sounds of the batting cages. I recall the beautiful feels of congregating at the medium sized park. The roasting sessions, slap boxing, foot races, fake WWE wrestling matches, the thrill of spitting wack game and rejections, after school fights, rap cyphers, pull up rim hooping against different sides of town, GameCube and Dreamcast Streets Basketball for the struggle life gamers, banging in my white t, and pink polos. Ohhhhhh the polos and Kanye! I recall the joyful teeter of identity. Embracing the Hot Boy stand out in Lil’ Wayne, exculpating the realness of Jeezy, and ultimately embodying the rhythm, blues, Afrikan drums, old summon of the mindfulness sounds of Kanye, Common, and Lupe Fiasco. Kick, push, and coasting with Black joyful tools and experiences like no other in a growing unforgiving world. 

Two Words: F*** You, Pay Me

Kanye’s College Drop Out album sustained my spirit at youth. During a time in my life where mistreatment, extrapolation, poverty, drugs, and violence begin to settle in strongest to strip full exist around me. Kanye was able to capture privations of anguish and literally free my spirit. Waves of joy became constant when my friends and I bumped College Dropout in route to high school. I still spill tears over something ugly when I listen to Family Business. The song truly captures the essence of navigating dysfunctional love, making peace with the good within it, looking to community, and extending the family love ethic to friends who sustain us just as well as kinfolk. A call to action reflective of ancient village function. Family business was my Black Panther-Wakanda escape of the time. The bar that pull me into instant joyful memories:

Keep your nose out the sky, keep your heart to God
And keep your face to the risin’ sun
All my n***** from the Chi, that’s my family dog
And my n***** ain’t my guys, they my family dog
I feel like one day you’ll understand me dog
You can still love your man and be manly dog

A true bop. The soundtrack of my adolescence. Connections to struggles, rejection of status quo, latching joy within, among, and beyond adverse experiences. Settling in a true sense of amity, tranquility, and restoration. 

Connection to Ancestors through Outdoor Joy 

I truly find grounding joy in many activities unbeknown to many. I enjoy thrifting, writing poems, reading, eating, traveling alone and/or in small groups, photography, and outdoor activities. Going off for college afforded me an increased exposure to outdoor activities. My first stretch in college included opportunities to travel with local college students in Southern Illinois. I really enjoyed leisure hikes on the tip of the gulf coastal plain. Land that was ironically nicknamed Egypt due to comparable topography to The Nile’s delta. I always felt really connected to this local land when I would explore outdoors. Whether it be taking walks in the surrounding college community, traveling further south for hip hop dance competitions, or traveling up and down I-57 for various functions. Connected with land at every venture. Later only to find my family and I have deep ancestral roots in Cairo Illinois. I sometimes wonder how many times I have walked the land, have been guided, and wrapped in spiritual protection as I explore the surrounding communities. I made critical decisions that forged a pathway to the current life I lead while walking alone and exploring the outdoors there.  

My second stretch of college afforded my access to outdoor activities in the rolling hills of Southwest Wisconsin. It is there when I expanded my connection to the outdoors. I remember watching my former colleague and dear friend Jacqueline Hunter light up so bright when sharing her passion for the outdoors. She introduced me to Outdoor Afro and shared some of her independent community efforts to spread this passion and share space. Hiking, kayaking, and fishing brings great joy to my life. Bird watching especially brings about a clear space to revitalize and repair my life damage. I truly feel at home when I can be among birds, soak in sun, and just breathe. My thoughts become amazingly clear. Regardless of the wide-ranging duress of interpersonal and worldly oppressive forces. Connections feel the realest outdoors as I know it truly enrich my soul. 

Joy is not a euphemism. It is sincerely connected to resistance. It is a tool. It is maintenance for the body, mind, and spirit. Joy is not constant struggle. It is ease. Joy is the calm sing of the birds. Joy is the dap up and laughs after a heated slap box match. Joy is not frivolous time. Joy must be protected. Full life depends on it.

—Jeremy Payne—

We play all day…

Play and joy is a vital part of life. Why are we habitualized to separate playfulness and joyfulness from our *daily commitments? Why do we hold the need to separate them? This disconnection could lead to a harmful misbelief that both can’t, shouldn’t, and/or don’t need joy and play for optimal Black human development. Similarly, in economic theory, labor and leisure are often discussed as separate, mutually exclusive components of one’s life. This disconnection implies that work should be unenjoyable. I fell for the okie-doke. Until recently, I was seeking joy only in my personal space. The sh.t that I had to do to pay the bills gave me no joy. As of late, I am in a space where I can re-prioritize my own life to accommodate the work that brings me joy. At the Progress Center for Black Women, I work authentically, jokingly, and joyously with my boss. In doing so, I find work more pleasurable and productive; it sustains me as I work my way out of white-normed spaces. As a Black woman who engages in embodied discourse, I like to imagine a workplace full of labor and joy. 

**Note: In an ideal world, this would be unnecessary. We would be amongst collective luxury.  However, as long as we are under the coercive control of capitalism, we must subvert to survive. Since I gotta pay rent, to live, it should at least be fun af. 

We control our joy. 

As members of historically suppressed populations, we must continually fight for control of our own bodies and minds. In this carceral state that seeks to profit from our existence and destruction, then commodify our self-care, one thing WE can control is joy. I had the honor of learning from Mosi Ifatunji who explained that each racial incident elucidated a cardiovascular response in Black folks that eroded our arterial lining, priming us for disproportionately poor outcomes.  Our mere response to the racial incidents is doing the work of racism. So in the continued state of anti-blackness, I intentionally seek joy. Because I can. Make no mistakes; while I choose joy as my strategy to resistance, it is not in replacement of actual anti-racist work. On the contrary, Joy is the necessary fodder required to sustain the anti-racist work I am committed to.

Joy is celebration of what we have. – Sandye Brown

I have been on a lifelong search for joy. During grad school, I began to wonder how people celebrate themselves. It felt wrong to exalt in one’s own accomplishments, but it also felt necessary. Nobody but me knew what mountains were climbed, so who better than myself to delve into a celebration? Had I attained joy before now, it would be situated in my life…And the time spent searching for it would be spent thinking, exploring, and evolving. We need to be careful that we aren’t assuming that there is no joy. There is joy. There was always joy.

—Sakara Wages—