"We Are Joy"

In America, Blackness is a burden. It is a historical weight that seems to reinvent itself at every turn. This burden is laid on our people by ignorance or maliciousness, and with this often comes negative associations with Blackness. However, this weight, and this pressure has galvanized a culture. It has given a group of people with varying interests and ideas a common tie connecting them all. There are beautiful shared experiences in which the root of the beauty in that moment is Blackness. There are moments that can only truly be appreciated through the lens of that culture. This February, we celebrate those moments by sharing images each day of the month, from "We Are Joy". "We Are Joy" is a portrait series utilizing the power of storytelling to share memories of the beauty of black lives, and to create imagery indicative of that beauty. Each subject in the series has been asked to share a personal joyful memory, in which being Black was the key element. Through this process of story preservation and image creation, we have a necessary collective reminder of how good it is to be Black.

“When I think a memory for me of black joy I think of me, my brother and my father in the basement. My father would be playing records, and he used to sit in this chair and he would close his eyes and he would just bob his head. And he would never open his eyes but he just knew like every word and every nuance of the music. And he would explain to me and my brother ‘this is Marvin Gaye, this is Earth Wind & Fire, this is who is singing right now”. He would have a story for everything. And me and my brother would just dance ourselves into a sweat. There’s so many pictures of us just like soaking,  and we would just be going and going, and I remember that. I remember the music he played, and I remember the feeling. Like me and my brother when we got home we would run downstairs and that was like our moment with him to just listen to music, dance, and we could just do it for hours. And you would just hear these big speakers, literally vibrating the floor. And I think that’s where me and my brother’s love of music and our feeling of joy with music came from. And now as adults whenever my family gets together for the holidays, even if its just me and my mom and dad, we always play music, that’s the first thing we do. And we play some black as hell shit. Black Joy is like family, music, jubilance and spirit.”

Maiya Norton


“Its kind of not necessarily one memory or story, its just a realization that I had when I became an adult and talking to other black people who were growing up as black people. I realized that my parents mad a concerted effort to make sure that I had black dentist, I had a black doctor. And my elementary school was all black growing up, but in middle school and high school, I was like 1 of 5 black kids, always. In high school I was the only black female in my theatre class. When I became an adult and realized my parents made such a grand effort to make sure I knew that black people could be doctors, that black people could be dentists. That they could be anything other than basketball stars and rap stars. Just that you have to introduce a kid to these experiences, and that representation matters. That’s important. And I think when I became an adult and I realized what they had done for me and how it impacted my life, I was definitely really really really proud of my parents and happy about the way I grew up.”

Arizona Newsum


“In Ghana, I studied abroad my junior year in college. And it was the year of the world cup, and Ghana was playing the U.S. And they beat the U.S. I remember my classmates were in the city centre, and of course everyone is celebrating and jumping up and down and they are excited, and you just can feel the energy take over. And then, I kid you not, two pick up trucks pull up and they just park on the sidewalk, they have stacked speakers, a guy starts setting up a DJ table, they hook everything up, and before you know its an impromptu parade happening right in front of our eyes. Ironically I was one of 10 black students, and I was the only black male student. So the rest of the class was just sitting back observing, and I was like “man, when is this ever gonna happen again?” With the energy of everyone, and everyone just shouting, I jumped right into that parade, and hopped on the hood of some dudes van as he was driving through the parade.  I’m shouting, they are yelling this chant, and I don’t even know what they are saying, but I am throwing my fist in the air and holding hands with this one dude, jumping up and down, shouting and screaming. And we are just so elated, and I felt like it was a win for me just being black. I felt like these my people. I’m right here with them, and they beat the Americans so let me go team homeland for this one moment in time.” 

Cyrus Aaron


“A pivotal moment for me and a true expression of black joy, was probably when I big chopped my hair actually. So I’ve grown up in a lot of suburb communities throughout my life. I’ve always sort of been the token black girl to say the least. So coming to NY I was exposed to a lot of cultures, and true exposure of black culture living in Harlem. Tons of beautiful women with natural hair, and I’d been going back and forth in my mind with whether or not I wanted to do it. And finally I was like alright, I’m going to take the jump and this would be it.  So I big chopped my hair, and it definitely was liberating, and I just started feeling even more confident in myself. I don’t identify as someone who is lacking in self esteem, but I think the increase in self esteem in my beauty and understanding and getting comfortable with this texture that I was born with and embracing it to the fullest is definitely something that did give me personal joy. In the same breath, I just was lifted up by other people who saw that beauty. For me that was something, that as a young black woman in a society that is always showcasing a beauty that doesn’t look like yours, was quite important.”

Shanika Hillocks


“I guess it would be when I discovered photography. At that time I was having an issue deciphering whether I wanted to be a fashion photographer or just a street photographer. So for a while I was living a dual lifestyle. after a while I figured I was doing myself a disservice if I wasn’t going to work on what I was really passionate about. A lot of people that were coming into my life at that point were very heavy on black culture and black history and it naturally progressed that that was the direction I wanted to go into with my studies and my work. I wanted what I was sharing to be about things I cared about. Black folks. People that are struggling that don’t necessarily have a voice. So that was a very great time for me, in my life and in general really, because up unto that point I struggled with identifying with who I was, and I’m Nigerian, so for a while I really struggled with that. Like being Nigerian in America, you are raised to think you are better than African Americans here. So that struggle of“who am I really” is a challenge, because for a while I hated my last name, I hated my first name. When I first came to America they bully you and try to make you assimilate into the culture here. But as I slowly gravitated towards photography and slowly discovered this was where I wanted my lane to be, every thing kind of fell into place, and everything is still falling into place.”

 Stephen Obansaya


“My black joy story happened on November 11, 2008. On the day Barack Obama got elected. I happened to be living in Atlanta Georgia, my second home. And I remember it like it was yesterday. The results came in that he was elected as president of the United States of America. So then I turn on the news, and you know Atlanta is very monumental in the civil rights movement, so every black person in Atlanta went down to MLK’s old church, Ebenezer Baptist church, on Arbor Avenue.  So we drove down there and it was so crowded. People were on top of their cars celebrating, people were crying. And the blackest thing I’ve ever seen probably, up unto this point, was Young Jeezy pulled up, in a blue Lambo. This is when he had that song “My President Is Black”. So he opened both doors in front of Ebenezer Baptist church, and played “My President Is Black” and got on top of the car. And everybody just went crazy. It was probably the most happy I’ve seen a collective of black people in a long time." 

Spree Wilson


"So, Tip Top is a bar. Its one of the last things that’s standing from like the old Bedstuy, and it’s just this bar, its black owned. Like when I first went there this guy came to the door, and my man had a jheri curl processed perm.  He was probably like 70, but his hair was like jet black, and the mustache. You walk in, and there’s a jukebox right on the right, and its super old school. It was like July but they still had Christmas lights along the bar, beer was dumb cheap, there was a sign for fried chicken on Fridays. Super dope man. I remember going in there, and there was like 5 of us. The moment I walked in I saw this older black woman bartending. And it just made me smile. Like I just got happy. She was like “what you want baby?” and it made me happy. It just made me so happy. And I thought about that, like “damn”, because especially living in Bedstuy in Brooklyn, most of the bars we go to are like hipster. You know what I mean? You don’t get that. And that reminded me of home. Like going to a bar in the hood. Like going to watch the fight with my cousin back in the day. And seeing that, that was dope."

Nafis Brown


“It was my first time ever coming to Brooklyn, and growing up in Seattle, it is diverse in our own way, maybe high school or whatever, but its not really fully diverse. Like I would go to basketball games and things, but I could never remember being in a space with just like thousands of black people. So I remember it was fashion week, and it was also the weekend that they had Ft Greene day in Ft. Greene park. A friend lived in Ft Greene so we just walked over, and there were white people there too, but there were like thousands and thousands of black people who looked like themselves. It wasn’t like “oh this girl has a weave, this girl has natural hair”. There was individualism which I thought was dope. I was like “this is where I need to live”. And I made a decision in that moment that I was going to move. “


Tara Liggins


“I think a lot of it has to do with family.  One of my earliest memories was when I went to Haiti, and meeting a lot of my family members for the first time. I have a lot of memories from that, and I think I was 3 at the time. Which crazy to have that memory engrained in my mind.   I have [the memory of] visiting my cousins, and my aunt who passed away last year.  Being at her and her husband’s corner-store, and being at the well and seeing all these Haitian kids come and pump water. And I remember thinking “oh my god I would never be able to do that”. And just kind of basking in the experience, like that real Haitian experience.  I was just in awe. watching these kids pump water in the well, take the bucket, put it on their head. And they were small kids like me. since my aunt passed away, I connect that memory specifically to that. Because she died recently,  I think about her being in my life, and a-lot of those memories that I have of her were when I visited Haiti and being at her shop and being with them. “

Maureen Saturne