Black Joy

Black History Shaping Black Futures | Black Joy – February 24 2023

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Hey beautiful people!

We’re in the final stretch of Black History Month, but here at Black Joy we celebrate our community all year long – so really, this is only the beginning for us!

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of Black History for future generations. As you know, legislatures across the country are trying their best to dilute and erase our history.

But I find hope in all the ways we’re resisting these efforts.

Just a few weeks ago students at an Alabama high school staged a walkout to protest not being able to discuss slavery or the Civil Rights Movement during their Black History Month programming. Not to mention, social media content creators like Kendria Bland are finding so many creative and sometimes hilarious ways to preserve and share Black History.

For today’s newsletter, I highlight some folks that are doing the work of keeping Black History alive by any means.

And we absolutely love to see it!

– Dani

Grandmama’s kitchen: Kiese Laymon on tending to the imaginations of Mississippi youth

It can take longer than it should to realize that our elders are a gift. And even the mundane moments we share with them shape our lives (and imaginations) for years to come.

For MacArthur “Genius” Grant award winner, Kiese Laymon, the limitlessness of his imagination began in his grandmama’s kitchen — at least partly.

Catherine Coleman, a Mississippi woman who chose to stay on the land she and her ancestors cultivated, sparked something special inside Laymon through food, but also through love and resistance.

Mississippi is the place you leave. It is beyond that state line where you will find opportunities and what some people believe to be freedom. But Ms. Coleman refused to leave, and with that refusal came the founding of the Catherine Coleman Literary Arts, Food, & Justice Initiative.

In honor of his grandmama’s legacy, Laymon is providing Mississippi children with something that was inconceivable when he was growing up.

“I just wanted to create a program that could give young kids, who I’ve met in Jackson, more opportunities to do what we call creative writing, and creative reading, and creative eating, and creative preparation of the food because I just think all of it goes together. But when I was growing up, it was like, food was over here, books were over here. And whatever was going on inside me was somewhere separate.”

At its core, this program honors the tradition of Black women freedom fighters from Mississippi, those more well-known like Fannie Lou Hamer, and those who are lesser known, but we know intimately, our mamas, grandmamas, and aunties who made complicated and beautiful lives here in spite of the worst of Mississippi.

The program launched its workshop in the Summer of 2020, and so far, it has had the intended impact that Laymon hopes for, which is “tending to the interior life” of Mississippi youth.

Read the full article on our website to learn more and hear from the young alumni who participated in the earliest cohorts of the program.

Honoring the ancestors through laughter

In case you missed it (but I doubt you did), a hilarious rap cypher featuring the likes of Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks has been making its rounds on social media. You can thank Kendria Bland for that.

I had a chance to speak with her about the content she creates and the inspiration behind it.

What led you to content creation?

I’ve been doing videos for almost ten years now. When I was younger and I started doing it, and I was in school, I used to get picked on a lot…I was always the goofball of the family [and] the environment that I grew up around they’re all clowns, like, we just sat around and clown on each other…that inspired me to start doing videos and just cope with being bullied and handle the depression. I started doing the videos to kind of escape from it.

I really loved the BHM cypher you did with notable Black leaders, and I was wondering what your process was in creating that? Do you do research first and then incorporate your comedic style?

The stuff that I put in the video, I already knew [the history]…and I honestly didn’t think that video was gonna go viral…it was so hard to record it because I don’t have a studio or anything. I just use my phone [and] the app…that’s how I edit all my stuff…

But I’m really fascinated with Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks. I try my best to stay respectful whenever I’m doing something dealing with Black History [because] it’s still a sensitive topic, and I don’t want to disrespect my ancestors.

What is your dream creative collaboration?

I would like to collaborate with the Wayans Brothers. I want to do a movie with them one day, because a lot of my videos are kinda like the Scary Movie series, where it’s like a parody.

How an Atlanta printmaker is fighting Black, queer erasure through their art

The creativity of Black folks is unmatched. And we are making waves in nearly every artistic medium. Like Kiara Gilbert, a printmaker in Atlanta fighting Black Queer erasure in their art.

Black Joy reporter Starr Dunigan spoke in-depth with Gilbert about their work and where they pull inspiration from. Read a snippet of it below:

Kiara Gilbert realized the power of storytelling at a young age.

They heard it while eavesdropping on their aunties as they chit-chatted in the kitchen of their Jacksonville, Fla. home about relationships and the nuances of life. They watched it while indulging in their father and brother’s movie collection. They drew it while creating their own comics as a kid.

Now as a 26-year-old printmaker in Atlanta, they carve illustrations of Black, queer life into wooden blocks before transferring the inked images onto fabric or paper. Gilbert has been crafting their own catalog of liberated Black bodies and obscure history since they were 18. It’s a world that looks different than the predominantly white schools and suburb they grew up in, where they felt like they were the ambassador of Black people amongst white peers.

Read the full article on our website.

Be easy y’all and keep spreading the Black joy. See you next time!

Danielle Buckingham

Danielle Buckingham

Danielle Buckingham (she/her), affectionately known as Dani Bee, is Reckon’s Black Joy Reporter, and a Chicago-born, Mississippi-raised writer based in Oxford, Mississippi. A 2021 Lambda Literary fellow, her work has been published in MadameNoire, Midnight & Indigo Literary Magazine, Raising Mothers, and elsewhere.

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