Reclaiming Our #BlackJoy

Can we as black people prioritize ourselves and our joy enough to just focus on it for 144 days? What happens when we hold our own joy close to our hearts where we can see it?

These are the questions that inspired Seattle-based conceptual artist and cultural organizer Natasha Marin to launch “144 Days of #BlackJoy, A Digital Meditation” on July 1.

Project organizer Natasha Marin. (KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer)

I had just checked out of social media for the summer to free my mind from the constant drama and spend more screen-free time with my son when Natasha’s message arrived in late June. It read, “Will you … (starting in July) join me in making a public post each day for 144 days on #blackjoy? I am asking you to like pray/meditate/hold space for black joy with me (and hopefully 143 other black people).”

Although I was reluctant to give up my un-social peace of mind, the opportunity to publicly meditate on Black Joy was so intriguing and necessary, especially in July, that I reactivated my Instagram account to participate.

July has not been too kind to black folks in recent years. In 2016, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were killed by police officers in Minneapolis and Baton Rouge.The July before that, Sandra Bland turned up dead in a Texas jail cell. The July before that, Eric Garner was jumped by a gang of New York police for selling loose cigarettes on a city sidewalk.

Then of course, there’s July 2013, when a Florida jury exonerated the wannabe cop who tracked, attacked, and killed Trayvon Martin. Within days of the verdict, Obama was on the airwaves with soothing words for broken hearts and angry feet.

Nowadays, BBQ Becky and her cousins Starbucks Sam and Waffle House Willie are using the police as their personal security whenever a random black person makes them feel “unsafe” by their mere presence.

Over and over we’ve watched this ritual of killing, outrage, justification, and freedom (for the killers). The repetition traumatizes us again and again. We cycle through feeling angry, frustrated, powerless, and unsafe. This negative, low-vibration energy triggers chemicals in our bodies, creating even more stress, depression, and disease.

So far, making a meme each day has challenged me to send my complainer on vacation for a few minutes. To emphasize the good that keeps me going. That’s the point of Natasha’s invitation. She writes to those of us who have accepted it:

“The idea behind this collaborative meditation is that we have the power to create and influence the world we want to live in by refocusing on our joy on our beautiful black selves as a simple but powerful revolutionary act.”

Search the #BlackJoy hashtag on your favorite social media platform and you’ll see that it’s not brand new by any means. The Black Joy Project dates back to November 2015, when an artist posted a picture of her mom smiling and invited others to post their own #BlackJoy inspirations. There have even been special events designed to pump up the joy, such as the Black Joy Parade in Oakland this past February.

Issa movement, baby!

Natasha’s addition to the rising tide of #BlackJoy began as a sort of response to Reparations, another social art project she started in 2016. The project invited people of color to make public requests for things they needed, and whites or even other people of color could offer to meet those needs. It gained a LOT of attention: a quarter of a million people participated in the exchange. National media took notice, and so did the trolls.

“Reparations was all-consuming,” she recalls. “It physically put shelter over people’s heads, clothes on people’s backs, food on people’s mouths. I never worked that hard in my life. But I was too naive in a sense about that project, like I didn’t know art projects could lead to death threats and stuff like that.”

People are still making offers and requests via the Facebook group “Reparations: Requests and Offerings” that Natasha has set up, but after three years, it was time to pay attention to the toll it was taking on her and her family.

“I was like ‘Okay, I have taken in the needs of so many people of color for so many years, and now I feel depleted. So what do I need?’ And it turns out, what I need is joy. I need the rejuvenating, life-giving power of joy, and that’s what I’m getting from this project.”

144 Days of #BlackJoy is part of her larger project BLACK Imagination, which includes exhibits, sound installations, and an audio “storybanking” on SoundCloud. Natasha envisions this Digital Meditation as a sort of “supernovena” built around her favorite number, 12, squared.

Today happens to be the end of the first 12 day set, and the group email message asks, “What happens when you start doing this?

  1. You feel the impact immediately. As you focus on your joy, you attract more, you see/witness more joy.
  2. You spread joy and affect others in a positive way.
  3. You remind yourself and others that our lives are not only our suffering.”

The 144th falls on November 22, which just happens to be Thanksgiving. “I have no idea what to expect,” she says. “What is possible is always so much more vast than what I could imagine.”

So far, 63 “black joy sustainers” have registered to receive her reminder emails. There’s still plenty of time to hit the 144-person mark and it’s very easy to participate. “There’s no wrong way to do this,” Natasha writes, “so long as you tag your post #BLACKJOY.” I’m doing memes, but photos, videos, any social share is welcome. The posts can be simple or deep, funny or poignant. Whatever #BlackJoy means to YOU.

She anticipates that people will miss a day here and there – consistency over the long haul is most important, she says. “If people would just try black joy, they would see, the shit works! It’s like giving yourself $20 every day!”

#hbd #maliaobama #blackjoy

A post shared by Tashi Ko (@tash1k0) on

Anyone who wants to officially join the project is asked to submit a pic and short bio that includes your city of residence and one intersectional aspect of your personality, and ends with “Your Name believes in #blackjoy because … ”

Here’s mine: I am a Black Unicorn, a CreativeSoul, a DC area resident, and the mother of a king. I believe in #blackjoy because life is too long and too short to let the difficulties keep you miserable!

Dear Black Friends, Starting on July 1st for 144 days, 33+ Black Friends and I will be holding aloft the image of us as Joyful, Loving, Healthy, and Whole. If you feel like you have #blackjoy to share please join us by tagging your posts as we meditate on ourselves! My joy is my revolution. Every time I throw my head back and laugh until my stomach aches and my cheeks are sore, my ancestors laugh with me. You know the miracle it is to be alive after generations of unceasing attack? Then you know that everyday we are already winning. Right now, we have no choice but to choose each other— we need each other. Let us hold this meditation together and allow it to feed us when we are on the brink of letting go. Let us give ourselves this gift!

A post shared by Tashi Ko (@tash1k0) on

Deidre R. Gantt is the former Associate Editor of Face2Face Africa. Prior to that, she served the Greater New Orleans community as a Program Associate with Foundation for Louisiana, where she managed leadership programs, grant opportunities and communications support to drive civic engagement and policy change. Her communications background includes a lengthy freelance career as a writer and editor, grant writer, and college writing instructor. Between 2007 and 2010, Deidre covered the rebirth of the cultural arts community in her hometown, Washington, DC, for the Ward 7 Arts Collaborative. Her professional writing career began in the 1990s as a contributing editor for Rolling Out urban style weekly. Deidre is also an accomplished poet and performer who has appeared on stages throughout the United States as well as in Tanzania and Ghana. Deidre holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Emerson College and a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Southern California.

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