"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.
“A memory rooted in blackness was a visit to my great grandmothers nursing home which was in Jamaica Queens. I do not keep too many memories from when I was a kid but I definitely vividly recall Being in my great-grandmother’s room at the time and having her talk to me and my brother about the times and what was going on with young folks particularly. She said to us ‘there are a lot of young boys that are lost out here’, and she made us promise that we would always stay gentlemen. That stayed with me to this day.”
"Six or seventh grade my friends and I went to see 'Bring It On' in the movie theater. I went to a predominately white school, so most of my friends were white. And I remember sitting there with all of them and we’re watching the movie and we are enjoying it and then Gabrielle Union comes out, and I’m like 'oh my god she’s beautiful'. The whole team was black, and part of the team was Blaque the singing group. So I was like, OK I really want them to win but I’m surrounded by all my white friends so let’s see what happens. I will never forget the end of that movie. When the Clovers won I jumped out of my seat and started jumping up and down and screaming, and all my friends were so disappointed. It was like one of my most visceral first memories of black girl magic, even though I couldn’t articulate it that way. But just that pride I had, that if I was in that movie I would’ve been on the winning side, which was a rare feeling back then."
“The other day I was making dinner and Eve was in the other room. And she got real quiet…so that’s me freaking out. Then I go in the living room and she is swimming in the floor. Like literally acting out swimming. Like backstroke, diving into the floor, but she was just pretending to swim. And it was just real cool. Like my little black kid is pretending to swim on the floor, but I got down there and I started swimming with her. So we were swimming for a good like 20 minutes. And it was just cool to be hanging out with her swimming. And in terms of being rooted and blackness, I guess that’s just like carefree black girl as you get.”
“So I’m going to tell you a story, and you know how I’m a great storyteller. So one, I grew up in the Schomburg center. I’ve been in that building for a few years, let’s say since I was 12, I’m 28 now. When I was 12 or 13 years old, Russell Simmons came to talk to us about being in the music industry. So if you want to talk about Black culture, for blackness for me that was monumental because I always wanted to work in the music industry. I had a Russell Simmons in front of me, I had access to him and we were able to talk to him and just get questions. he enjoyed it so much that he invited us to Def Jam studio records to talk to him and stuff. And it made me feel good because I was able to see people that looked like me doing something beyond my neighborhood in a sense. You know I grew up in Harlem, so it was just a little different when it comes to that. So I would definitely say that I caught a lot of joy from that moment. That moment gave me a lot of motivation for what I am today as far as the photographer and capturing the essence of black people. whatever that looks like, from art form to gritty streets, to anything that’s like joyful. So that definitely gave it to me, because that was a proud moment for me man. I was a 13-year-old kid who loved hip-hop and I was sitting with the person who I deemed as a hip-hop pioneer and he gave me access to his record label. That shit was lit.”
“One of my fondest black joy memories was when I was younger, and my parents both worked for IBM. they were part of the first generation to be in the affirmative action program, which means corporate America had to let them in. So they had a crew of the black folks that worked at IBM called “the posse”, they called themselves “the posse”. And every New Year we went to the Daniel’s house, and I just remember looking forward to that. Even more so than Christmas because it was a time where I saw my parents unwind. being black in that environment early on, you didn’t really know how you were being watched but you knew you were being watched so they had to be very mindful about how they presented themselves. But when they got around ‘us’ basically, one of our own, our comfort, our village , it just kind of let them sit at ease. And I remember very vividly, the kids would be downstairs watching reruns of Def Comedy Jam which I KNOW we were not supposed to do but the parents were all upstairs getting drunk. I remember going upstairs to get something to drink, a soda, and I saw my parents dancing hard as hell to Parliament/Funkadelic “Flashlight”. Like my pops was getting it. Like you know jumping leg up, throwing it down, mom was dancing moving and everything, and it was in that moment I was like ‘yo this music thing, this funk this pure expression of just black excellence is everything’. And I was just so happy to be black in that moment. And they were just playing records, everyone just had tunes and they would just go from song to song. I really think that when I started djing that was a pivotal moment that was captured in my mind when I started to spin parties. Because I always wanted to give people that same joy I saw in my parents that New Year’s Eve.”
“This past year, in 2016 working on series and films and projects has been such a big highlight, but at the same time it is interesting how other people will react to it. They are more excited for you, than you are about the project. So it’s like “there goes my girls name in the credits!”. I know whenever I see my friends that are actors get their big break I’m like “that’s my girl! There she go! She’s doing it!” That is that excitement that is that black joy that I think we collectively share when we see someone we want to do well and to win. My biggest thing with that is a lot of times people don’t even stay to watch the credits. so for me the black joy of it is that people stay and recognize I contributed something and that everyone on that list of names has contributed something. Some of them are people of color, and that’s a huge thing because there aren’t so many people of color, especially black people behind the scenes let alone in front of the camera. So it’s exciting that people feel that level of excitement to see that, and for you to get that recognition and for it to be something that people can share. That’s what it really is, is the sharing of it all.”
Derica Cole Washington
“Major moment that is going to be forever stamped in my freaking memory. Embedded, I’m gonna take it with me to the heavens and tell God as if he is not the one who built this freaking storyline. Its simply the day that I spoke with, unfortunately I have to give it the prefix ‘former’, president Barack Obama. And after I spoke with him, this was with “Sway In The Morning”, it was such a beautiful opportunity, my entire face was wet. It was like I had gone outside and had gotten hit by a storm. And part of the reason I was crying was because we are literally in the midst of history. Like you are drenched in it, you are partaking in it, and its undeniable. This is the first black man [president]. Now as a human, absolutely qualified and amazing, all of that. But it made me realize, “yo he’s not a myth”. He’s chuckling at things I would chuckle at, he’s listening to me. Like there’s an exchange on energy. It just made me realize that my potential, beyond how anyone else looks at it as low or beyond how anyone else looks at it as non-existent, is there and its ready to blossom in the widest possible way. And that was just completely reaffirmed by my man B Rock.”
“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.”
“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.”
“It was when I went to Japan for my documentary. Being in such a homogenous society, where it is 99.9% Japanese and talking to people about hip hop, and really getting how much they love and admire and appreciate our culture. it’s something that they want so badly. They so badly want to understand it and get to the root of it. Like even talking to them about Compton and stuff. a lot of people will never understand that struggle. What its like to be in that environment. Because its not their culture, its not what they know. And I was like “yo, they love us”. It’s so great to be black. Like anywhere in the world everybody just wants a piece of it. And it’s just something that they will never understand. So I think that’s pretty cool, knowing you have a thing that everybody else wants, but can’t have.”
“I was in Brazil, I was in Sao Paolo, 2010. A friend was in school and we decide to go to carnival, not in Rio but in Bahia. And that’s the beauty of blackness, its completely transferable and translates no matter the language barrier, no matter the hue, no matter the destination that you’re in. Bahia had to be the most lit place to be during that period of time too. There’s something about the energy in Bahia, there’s an electricity in the air. I also think I like the fact that they are very hedonistic. They like all the shit that I’m into. They wanna eat good, they wanna fuck, they wanna drink, they wanna dance. Life is good, and its like no matter what socioeconomic status you are, this is what we all do. So just being in Pellorino, it’s the old part of Bahia, its where the slave ships came, and so obviously there’s a palpable spirit. So just to see everybody just out in the streets, filling up all the streets, just dancing, just laughing. I had no idea what people are saying, I don’t understand the music, I can’t do samba, but you just get involved. There is something about that, and being able to unabashedly just live in it and be loose. A spirit of‘we are all here and we are in this together’. “
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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."
"So I grew up in North Carolina, and my mom and I moved around a lot. The school I went to in third grade, I was the only black girl in my class. My mom went up to the school and complained and questioned why I as the only black girl in the class. And it was joyful for me because I had never seen that before. I never had to experience that before. Honestly nothing even came of it, but itjust was nice to see that recognized."
“Morehouse was an awesome experience. I got to see all types of African American people. People that were interested in listening to Bob Dylan or folks that were into heavy metal. Like any type of black person you could think of, I feel like I got the opportunity to meet them at Morehouse. So for me, I got an opportunity to come to NY and intern here in 2008, I went to the Wale ‘Mixtape about nothing show’ and it like changed my life. I thought all that stuff was amazing. And I just wanted to be here. And there were two years before I graduated and I was just trying to figure out a way to get to NYC and how I could sustain myself. And I think the happy moments for me were the moments I was working to sustain myself. All the moments I had to prove myself again and again. The times where friends of mine, based upon my relationship at Morehouse or based upon being Black and trying to achieve, or do things, people kind of came in for me and helped me out and gave me an opportunity to do things I probably would not have been able to do on my own.”
"So basically any day I walk into Royal Rib House. Any single day. Every time I walk into royal rib house, especially when the line is long. That is when I am most happy. I get in the line, and the line is surrounded by everybody who loves everybody, and loves the food, and loves Jay, and Calvin and the family. And you don’t care how long you’re gonna wait in that line. You know you’re gonna stay there and ask for extra cornbread. And just nothing is ever wrong with that moment, ever. You might be tired of standing there for 2 hours, its not really 2 hours but it is long. I’m happy every single time I step in that line. And I feel super black. And super happy. And super proud. That is my happiest, on a regular basis, black moment."
"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."
“So I was sitting on the train, and I was with one of my homegirls, coming back to Brooklyn. I saw this guy and this little girl get on the train, and all of sudden I see them start dancing, like flexing and putting their arms behind their back and everything. And for some reason, that moment was so beautiful to me. Apparently that was his daughter, so he was dancing with his daughter and they had a whole dance routine. I thought that was a really good experience that I really enjoyed seeing and watching. And that made me feel pretty good, just seeing a daughter and father bonding in such a good way.”
“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. “
“I think the most funny moment that happens all the time, is if I’m at a party, and if I’m DJing or anybody else is DJing, and they decide to play Maze “You Make Me Happy” (Edit: the song is “Before I Let Go”). In that moment, when all the black people just kinda lose their shit, those are some of the most blissful happy black moments that I can think of. Its crazy. Cause when you hear that “dun dun dun, dun dun dun, whhooaa ooohhhh”…. its over. Everybody loses their shit, no matter what anybody is doing. You could be half way in the bathroom line, you could be getting a drink at the bar, you may be macking to this girl, and if she don’t react while you’re like macking to her, then you know she’s not the one. When that song drops, in the beginning. Those are some blissful moments. For that minute and 1:45 seconds, however long that song gets to play out, people lose their shit, and its really great to see. And it’s funny because white people haven’t caught on to that song yet.”
“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. “
“I got married in September, and when I think about my wedding day, and think about all of the fun times and music and everything, it was a very black event. We held it at a black owned restaurant. We had traditional black food. We jumped a broom, which is rooted in black culture though it doesn’t have positive origins. We danced to black music. It was a great day and a great time. And as much as marriage is not about race, we still celebrated our history and our future through the context of race and skin color as well as faith and religion.”
"Any time that I’m around more than one straight man, and I don’t feel uncomfortable is a really important moment for me. So I’m trying to think of one of those that I had. Oh, I met this photographer in Baltimore, I’m not going to say his name, but he was really fantastic. He was very black, like he was from the hood, and he was from the same area as me. I never really felt comfortable walking around that neighborhood with my camera out, because it is Baltimore City and I’m not stupid. But when I was walking with him, it felt different. I was a different person, and I hadn’t lived in Baltimore for 2-3 years, and we were walking down the street eating chicken boxes and gravy fries in broad daylight. And talking to the old people on the bus stops. It was just a very important moment for me. It was a very positive very very black experience.”
“I think I would say its when I got married. I think I have a core belief that the person you marry has already been a part of you. And when you find them you recognize that person that was a part of you already. So when I found my wife I found in her, family, I found in her, love. So when we got married I was able to feel complete in a sense. I guess that doesn’t cannibalize love toward one that is your same race, but for me personally, finding her I was really able to recognize the family in her, and want to build that with her. Then that becomes a true part of my identity as a man because I got married when I was 25. That was before I got really into the professional word. So now as we both navigate the professional world being young African Americans, we represent each other in every way and in every situation that we are in. So when we are together and strong, that’s a reflection of that joy that we have that we’ve created for ourselves despite the color of our skin.“
“My family is very close. We have a nuclear family, ‘the nukes’ I call it. And last Christmas was probably my favorite Christmas we’ve had. It was rooted in black joy because “Sounds Of Blackness” is always playing Christmas morning. My dad made us all mimosas, and it was even before we opened the presents we were pretty lit. And my sister and I have our onesies on, like little red onesies with santas on the feet. Anyways, there’s a song that in Sounds Of Blackness is called ‘Christmas Chitlins’. So my sister and I created a coordinated dance,
'Dance chitterlins dance, it ain’t very often you get this chance, so dance chitterlins dance, Christmas party’s tonight'.
So anyway we kept doing that and my dad joined in, and we were just all vibing, and my mom was cracking up. I have a really great family. I was extremely happy in that moment. Also, my dad kept screaming ‘Pop champagne! Ohhh!’ the whole rest of the day.“