Black Joy

Best of Black Joy: Our favorite stories from 2022

Another end of the year is upon us, y’all.

And whew, this one has been full of blessings, especially considering the growth of the Black Joy team. We’ve captured many angles of melanin magic over the past year. I mentioned a few of those stories in one of our recent newsletters from this month. But honestly, that list didn’t do it justice.

So, here’s five more of my favorite Black Joy stories to write in 2022. May these stories energize and empower you as we get ready for 2023:

B(L)ACK on the road

Now I love me a good trip, but have you ever considered living and working on the open road? In my roundup of Black nomads, you’ll get a good look at what it’s like to break the racial barriers of the #vanlife craze. You’ll also be introduced to Toyin Ajayi, founder of Outdoorsy Black Women. The social network app helps Black women connect and celebrate each other as they explore the never-ending playground of the outdoors.

Ajayi’s family nicknamed her “Snow Black,” based on Disney’s “Snow White,” because of the way she nursed animals until she could get them to a vet. She created the app to help heal Black people’s complicated relationship with the outdoors. Whether you’re a stargazer, hiker, waterfall chaser, gardener, farmer, surfer, etc., you’re sure to find a home within Outdoorsy Black Women.

“Black women are amazing, and they’re doing so many dope things in the outdoors,” Ajayi said. “We’re really happy to have Black sisterhood and a space for us to enjoy and encourage each other to be even more amazing.”

The journey of Black, gay and trans fatherhood

The first few years of parenting is an adjustment for anybody. But Black, gay parenthood comes with its own trials and blessings. Damion Lewis and his husband, Donald Holden III, knew they wanted to be fathers the moment they married in 2016. After a three-year-long adoption process, the North Carolina couple happily became the parents of Cooper and Reagan Joan Elizabeth – even though they were only expecting to become parents of one child.

Despite the emotional rollercoaster of adoption, Lewis and Holden enjoy creating a home full of warmth and love for their babies as a Black gay couple.

“I tell people all the time: I never dreamt about my wedding, but I always dreamt about being a dad,” Holden said. “I never thought I’d be allowed to have a wedding or didn’t know what a wedding would look like, but I always knew I wanted to be a father.”

Trans #girldad Makari and his daughter, Skylar, are truly two peas in a pod. They share a love of cowboy boots, fishing and a November 12th birthday. They live in a rural Virginia town where the outdoors and family time are the best forms of entertainment because the WiFi rarely works.

Makari gave birth to Skylar before his transition. He didn’t want to keep his baby girl in the dark. So, he told her the big news over scoops of ice cream. She was seven at the time.

“I broke it down to her like, ‘Your mom wants to be a dad. I’m really not comfortable in the body I am in,’” Makari said. “She was like, ‘OK, well, I still love you and I will call you my dad.’”

In a world full of transphobia, we need more folks like Skylar!

Giddy up and Read

You’ll wanna grab you a pair of cowboy boots – and your favorite book – for this story.

North Carolina native Caitlin Gooch is a second-generation equestrian who loves to ride and read. She combined these two loves to create her own nonprofit called Saddle Up and Read, which strives to increase her state’s low literacy rates for children of color. With her miniature horse “Man Man” in tow, Caitlin ventures out to Black and brown neighborhoods to read to kids and to give them free books. Children are also welcome to visit her family’s farm, where they can read to her horses.

Celebrities such as Oprah and Mr. Reading Rainbow himself, LeVar Burton, have praised the nonprofit. Gooch said she wants to put a plug in the school-to-prison pipeline through literacy.

“We’re opening up opportunities for Black and brown children who don’t like to read and turning them into children who love to read. We give them the tools and the resources to fall in love with reading,” she said.

Black-owned manga company closing the “imagination gap”

Saturday A.M is a Black-owned manga company that’s changing the world through storytelling and world building that centers Black and brown characters. North Carolina native Fredrick Jones created the company after noticing the racial gap in manga, which is the Japanese word for comics.

In less than 10-year’s time, Saturday AM and its team of young Black creatives have already caught eyes for creating the first Black woman-led in Shonen manga. This changes the game because despite manga’s growing worldwide appeal, the artform typically centers characters who look white.

“Manga cannot become this popular and, then at the same time, send the message to Black and brown kids that they can’t be the hero. They can’t be the pretty, beautiful person, they can’t be the heroic sidekick – the Sasuke [from Naruto] if you will. We can’t even exist,” Jones said. “So, I just thought it was really important for Saturday AM to make sure we’re giving young people permission to dream. Permission to imagine scenarios where they can be a Black wizard, a squad of young Black kids like Naruto fighting crime or being ninjas. You have to give them permission to do that.”

The kids (of 1963) are alright

History lessons through from the lens of Black joy are some of my favorite stories to write.

Earlier this year, I interviewed a couple of members of Kids in Birmingham 1963, an organization of elders who were children during some of the vital moments of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, Ala. While the organization typically talks about the racial turmoil and reconciliation from the perspective of a child, I asked members to think about moments of Black joy erased from media accounts of the movement back then.

This isn’t to discredit the trauma these members endured. Many of them were friends with the four girls who were killed during the infamous 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Some of them were attacked by dogs and sprayed with fire hoses during the Children’s March of 1963. Others had close encounters with explosives themselves as the Ku Klux Klan turned their neighborhoods into bombing ground.

But Black life and culture still thrived despite these tragedies. Kids of Birmingham 1963 were full of stories about how music and their parents’ guidance and love sustained their communities. Here is the collection of stories from that series.

Jonece Starr Dunigan

Jonece Starr Dunigan | jdunigan@reckonmedia.com

Jonece Starr Dunigan (She/her/hers) is a journalist who gives the microphone to communities that are often ignored by mainstream media. Guided by empathy, her reporting centers the stories, movement work and voices of Black, brown and queer people. Her writing strives to amplify and empower readers instead of exploiting them of their traumas.

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