Black Joy

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So, it’s December.

Nah, for real. Sit with that. It’s December. Like, where the year go, y’all??

We got a big dose of end of year Black joy on Thursday. WNBA star Brittney Griner was released after spending nearly 10 months in a Russian prison. I leaped for joy when I heard the news. I wept during the White House press conference when Brittney’s wife, Cherelle, said, “Today is just a happy day for me and my family. So, I’m going to smile right now.”

I’m so glad that after months of grieving both Cherelle and Brittney can now smile together. I hope that you give yourself permission to also find joy today as we creep into a new year.

Oddly, as I am typing this, a lo-fi version of “Auld Lang Syne” popped up on my playlist. The Scottish-poem-turned-ballad is our go-to song as we usher in the new year together. I particularly like this version sung by a Birmingham choir back in 2020.

Although 2022 still got some juice to it, listening to that song is giving me cozy vibes (No, not that cozy). Things just feel complete now that we’ve cemented our new Black Joy team, who y’all heard from last week. This week, we came together to plan some BIG things for y’all in the coming year. I mean we already had our FIRST VIRAL POST ON TIKTOK!!! 🎉 stay on top of things by following us on TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

But today, we’re gonna focus on the best of Black Joy this year. These are the stories that helped me find my own joy as I navigated the busy energy of building this brand.

Been enjoying our content? Don’t keep the good vibes to yourself! Share this newsletter with your friends and fam.

– Starr

Representation matters even in the imagination

One of my favorite things I did for myself this year is give myself permission to be childish.

I’m not talking about acting immature or petty lol. I’m talking about taking time to sit with my inner child and act carefree and playful. I made my own shimmery wings and frolicked around as a fairy for Halloween. Being magical became my form of liberating joy because the lack of representation in fantasy subconsciously taught me that magic wasn’t for me, and that I’m destined to fall victim to the trope of being a “strong Black woman who don’t need no help.”

Turn to your neighbor and say the devil is a lie! We burning capes TUH-DAY 🔥

I’ve interviewed many Black artists, cosplayers and reading nonprofits who are challenging the lack of representation in the imagination in different ways, including in manga.

One of those spaces is Saturday AM, a Black-owned manga company based in North Carolina that’s producing the most diverse characters in the industry. The work, powered by young creatives from more than 30 countries, backs up this statement. Saturday AM’s bi-monthly digital anthology is bursting with Black, brown, LGBTQ+ characters on adventures. Frederick Jones, who launched the company in 2013, has made history twice by creating the first Black girl protagonist and the first Indian protagonist in shonen manga ever. Overtime, a digital sports brand geared towards Gen Z sports fans, invited Saturday AM to create a basketball-themed manga featuring all multicultural characters – a rarity in the sports manga genre, Jones said.

Saturday AM is changing the racial landscape of a growing medium that has Japanese roots but favors whiteness. You can read more about Saturday AM’s mission to increase diversity on our website. For now, I’m bringing back Blake Showers, a Black artist who I interviewed last year.

Blake is the beast storyteller behind “4strikes,” which follows the adventures of Meleak Williams, a shy, timid, Black teen who becomes a bat-wielding demon hunter. Meleak’s story takes place in Vulcan City, which is a shout out to Blake’s hometown of Birmingham, AL., home of the Vulcan statue.

Saturday AM comes through for Blake by giving him the space to recreate the childhood he deserved back when he was reading manga series at the library. Many protagonists in mainstream manga are fair skinned. Blake’s self-esteem took a hit because of the lack of characters. He made his own comic so no kid would have to endure the psychological wounding of not seeing themselves in the shows they love and the books they admire.

“I think a lot of this is coming from what I wanted to see in manga,” Blakes said. “I wanted to see like a Black kid who looked like me who wasn’t a strong, tough guy, but wasn’t the super nerd. I wanted something in between where I could be like, ‘You know what, I feel like that. He talks like me.’ I wanted to feel like a real person.”

Blake started sketching “4strikes” in 2016. He had the option to publish his comic on Webtoons, which is a larger platform. But after chatting with Jones and learning about his mission, Blake joined Saturday AM in 2018 because he wanted to be in a space where he wouldn’t have to censor his work or himself. He met other artists who also felt their work was being overly-criticized on other platforms simply because they’re Black.

That energy doesn’t exist at Saturday AM. It’s more of a familial vibe over there.

“Being a black artist, you have to understand that not everybody’s gonna like your work and sometimes it’s just because you’re Black, or sometimes they think you’re pushing an agenda, but it’s like, no, I just want to tell my story,” Blake said. “But with [Saturday] AM, I can say what I want. I can put out what I want without feeling like anyone is judging me. Everyone is really open minded and they’re for artists rights.”

Blake called Fredrick a master storyteller that contributed to “4strikes” popularity online. When Blake did a call out for voice actors so he could start playing around with animation, an outpouring of responses flooded his inbox.

Working on “4strikes” isn’t Blake’s full time gig. In fact, Blake will be flexin’ in his cap and gown in May when he graduates from Millersville University in Pennsylvania. He wants to be an art teacher inspiring kids to imagine beyond what they see – just like Fredrick did for him.

“Seeing Fred do something he’s wanted to do for a long time and put himself out there as a Black man passionate about manga and anime, helps me want to put myself out there,” Blake said. “I think being a Black art teacher who can do so many things outside of just teaching can help a Black kid - or even one who isn’t – see that it is possible for them to do things no matter the color of their skin. I hope I give some type of courage to someone who is struggling to find where they belong.”

It’s giving growth and liberation

It’s been a few years since I joined the Plant Mama Life. Every spring and summer, I decorate with colorful blooms I bought from my local nursery. Once I proved to myself that I can keep plants alive, I graduated to my first house plants: a hanging basket overflowing with philodendrons – and a sickly mixture of pothos from the clearance shelf. Now, I don’t know who I thought I was trying to nurture a plant back to health on my first go around, but I’m glad I did it. Because now I have multiple thriving plant babies.

So it’s no surprise that I gravitated towards the story of Bree Iman Clark, who openedDallas and Houston’s first Black-woman owned plant shop, The Plant Project. Bree was very intentional from the beginning in growing commUNITY (her words) using the power of plant joy. Two of her three shops are built either on or near a freedmen’s town, which are settlements where the formerly enslaved thrived after the Civil War.

Bree credits her mother and a family friend named Herman for nurturing her budding interest in plants. So she always saw plants as something for everyone to enjoy. But the industry didn’t reflect that truth. She started to feel isolated and alone after having a hard time finding a Black-owned shop to patronize. So sis took it upon herself to open her own space. Bree taught me that plants can remind us of our own growth and our ability to free ourselves.

“Black joy equals plant joy,” she said. “My plants are more than plants – they’re liberation. I wanted to show that everybody – no matter your skin color, background, race, religion, style – is able to grow and take care of something that’s not only used for decor, but also helps with our mental, emotional and physical needs.”

Ya ancestors don’t play about you

Veronica Agard, founder of Ancestors in Training, is dressed in all white as she poses for a photo. She is surrounded by vibrant marigolds.

What type of ancestor do you think you’ll be?

Veronica Agard is the spiritual sis you need to answer this question. As founder of Ancestors in Training, Veronica helps folks see their time on earth as something that exists beyond the boundaries of life and death. It’s part of a perpetual legacy for your descendants to use as support. On Instagram, Agard posts empowering affirmations like “if trauma can be passed down so can love and joy,” spiritual tips such as the anatomy of an ancestor altar and journal prompts encouraging you to embrace joy.

Veronica discovered the powers of ancestral work after her paternal grandmother and an uncle died within 66 days of each other. She leaned into community and the healing work of indigenous practices to pull her through. She completed her Ifá rights of passage in August, where she was given the name Ifáṣadùn, which means “Ifa sprouts joy.”

Multigenerational healing is possible. And Ancestors in Training is ready to help during its virtual Community Circle Space on Sunday, where attendants will identify their family’s traumas to make way for new traditions. I got my ticket. Are you going?

“We’re not just talking about the trauma and the harm that’s been caused,” Veronica said. “But thinking a step ahead and thinking about the joy and the possibilities that can come from when we shift our thinking a little bit. We’re not just talking about what cycles to break, but what cycles we want to start.”

Hope you find healing by embracing your Black Joy! See ya next time!

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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