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Five Black Joy Triggers

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel so bad

(My Favorite Things, Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rogers, 1961)

After watching, Amanda Gorman perform her Magnum opus poem at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, I thought about what I was missing in a world consumed by racial unrest, a worldwide pandemic, and political strife. Gorman reminded me of things that brought Black joy in my life.  "Black joy" are those small activities that resist giving in to the many racial challenges Black people face and building resilience to remain grateful and gracious. I need to draw from the deep wells of culture, history, and religion. These five triggers have helped me through tough times and renew my hope. These are a few of my favorite things to bring me Black Joy. 

Trigger #5 –

I make runs to my favorite soul food establishment named “Candied Yam” This restaurant is my way to steal away at lunch. Collards greens soaked with ham hocks and a touch of spices waken my palate with sweet remembrance of my parents’ tiny apartment kitchen in 1970’s Chicago. I cannot leave without a pecan tart or pound cake that lets me know I am loved.

Trigger #4 –

There is nothing like the sounds of Motown that brings a smile to my face. The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, and Gladys Knight and the Pips remind of times when I felt things were possible and hopeful. These groups and songs blared over the AM radio dial and I danced terribly in my bedroom. Oh please, don’t let my older sister see me trying to dance like Michael Jackson, she will laugh at me. (And that’s ok.) 

Trigger #3 –

Books were my way to finding new sources of strength. The minds of great men and women who held court on the world’s stage and battled the enemies of despair, disappointment, and doubt. James Baldwin lit a fire under me with his novel “The Fire Next Time”. Nelson Mandala’s “The Long Walk Home” transported me to his Robbin Island prison, but the prison never locked up his faith and freedom fighting spirit. Historian John Hope Franklin gave me the courage to pursue history as a possible profession in high school. Books were my vehicle of traveling to larger worlds.

Trigger #2 –

There’s nothing like having conversations with my family. A phone call to my older sister Rebecca and I am laughing so hard that my eyes watered and stomach ached afterwards. The months my mother lived with me were precious and profound. I learned things about her childhood that I never knew about living in 1940’s Mississippi. My appreciation grew with every small (and at times confusing) talks due to her dementia. She never gave up hoping her seven children would have a better life than she would.

Trigger #1 –

Experiencing the Black church for worship. Is it the high-octane praise and worship from the choir, the thumping bass sound or the invitation to engage in a world that has not fallen prey to the outside forces of racism, economic struggle and political polarization? For three hours on the Lord’s Day, I fill my emotional and cultural tank by God’s unlimited station for the worn and weary people of the darker hue.  The preaching of the word dared me to imagine the God who does not give up on hard things and hard people. The Spirit of worship in the Black church brings the Exodus experience with concrete pictures and sounds to help me identify that I am going to the promised-land. Joy happened for me in church of my youth and I always go back for another refill of black joy. 

Photo by Luca Upper on Unsplash


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