See You … ‘Emanating a Sense of Joy’

See You Campaign

* Three Men [Pyramid of Dignity & Joy]Two men with canes seated in foreground with another man standing behind them. Loewentheil Collection of African-American Photographs. Cornell University Digital Library. Tintype (Photographic Print). Late-19th Century. Link:

* Helen Cate, Research Librarian; Funded in part by The Pollination Project; #SeedTheChange; design by Julie Ray Creative.

Today, like Langston Hughes, I “Dance! Whirl! Whirl!” in a digital celebration I call See You: Faces of the Black Man of Happiness Social Media Campaign featuring historical photographs of Black men and boys ‘emanating a sense of joy.’

Today, Juneteenth 2019, starting with an image I call Three Men [Pyramid of Dignity & Joy], I’m posting the first of eight ‘Legacy’ photos on Instagram: @seeyou247; Twitter: @PeterJHarris1; and Facebook:

Each week, I’ll post a new photo, ‘framed’ beautifully by Julie Ray Creative, the designer who also created the vibrant look for this blog, the website for the Black Man of Happiness Project, and the promo site for my play The Johnson Chronicles.

During the See You campaign, each photo will be captioned with info provided by the collection holding the original image. I hope that each photo will inspire folks to claim and emanate their own happiness; meditate on how to contribute to other folks’ joy; embrace happiness as a counter spell against personal and social down-pressures; and LIKE, SHARE, and COMMENT in the spirit of contributing to a living, breathing Oral History of Happiness.

See You: Faces of the Black Man of Happiness Social Media Campaign is a life-affirming oasis that traces the DNA of joy for Black men and boys during a social climate that too often places those men and boys in the crosshairs of danger and death. The See You campaign celebrates the humanity of Black men and boys from a refreshing new angle that I hope boldly contributes to a re-charged emotional ecology and social atmosphere that are infused with beautiful art reflecting ongoing, dignified, and intimate resistance of Black males to their dehumanization.

The See You campaign is partially funded by The Pollination Project, based in Berkeley, CA, which views the campaign “as part of a larger movement to inspire compassion and change in every corner of our planet.” The campaign features a portion of the 50-plus ‘Legacy’ photographs currently identified by lead Research Librarian Helen Cate, who coined the brilliant phrase ‘emanating a sense of joy.’

In these magnificent images, I see men and boys – now ancestors – as part of our community, our cultural family. Yet I also see them flaunting their individuality! They remind us to find our own unique reasons for living, for pursuing happiness, and for cultivating/celebrating our current and future mental, spiritual and community health. It’s thrilling to actually unearth these images of joyful and dignified brothers. They are powerful touchstones from the past to help us all breathe again!

These See You images are part of a growing collection of visceral reminders that, at our best, brothers always always always kept hold of their inner life and their inner light. No doubt, we’ve waded through hundreds of images of pain, and tragedy, and difficulty, and death, and ugliness. Yet, by not turning away we have been drawn inexorably to the magnificence ‘emanating’ from history.

This search, this campaign, culminates more than 20 years of my own sporadic – and frankly ineffective – investigations in search of images. In October 2017, after years of living in LA, I found myself at the Altadena Central Library, a library patron seeking assistance in locating historical photos of joyful Black men.

I first requested help from Melissa Aldama, Adult Services Reference Clerk II. Excited by my query, Melissa assigned Helen Cate to conduct research on my behalf. Helen began her research by sitting with me, and absorbing the specs I outlined: please search for any ‘Legacy’ photos in which Black men could be ‘read’ as exhibiting joy, or happiness, or contentment, or dignity. I didn’t want photos of entertainers or athletes. I wanted images of Everyday People.

After our meeting, Ms. Cate initiated her research by writing to librarians at, among other collections, the Library of Congress, universities, and public libraries. Almost casually, she wrote that she was searching for assistance identifying photos of Black men “emanating a sense of joy.” Honestly, I was blown away by this elegant turn of phrase! It distilled what was actually motivating me! It distilled what was ineffably calling out to me!

Now, that phrase governs and guides my on-going research. I love watching folks’ eyes light up when I tell them the See You Project is searching for photos of Black men “emanating a sense of joy.” I get a chill just writing the phrase.

Join us today and in subsequent weeks as we continue this unprecedented and concentrated and evolving exploration, as we pay homage to our elder brothers emanating a sense of joy, emanating their inner light.

I’m confident that they will help us all to see more clearly now – each other and the incredible strength and dignity and humanity necessary to become and remain a Black Man of Happiness.

Fetching Lessons — The Headmaster Leaves Town

Sankofa is an African word from the Akan … in Ghana.  The literal translation of the word and the symbol is it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.” Carter G. Woodson Center, Berea College

Meditating on the death of a break-through mentor of mine. When I was 23, Dr. Irving S. Hamer, Jr. (January 6, 1946 – May 4, 2019) hired me to teach Language Arts to 14-21-year-old high school students at the Park Heights Street Academy, in Northwest Baltimore. I taught at the Academy from 1978 to 1980, when I left to attend the Summer Program for Minority Journalists, at UC Berkeley.

Irv’s influence started with his jazzy first interview of me, before there was even a building for the Academy. We sat in his apartment study in a high-rise across from Druid Hill Park. After he hired me for my first teaching job, I was imprinted by his quiet, but declarative demeanor, and by his erudite style – complete with a sleek brown Jaguar coupe. Then once in flow with the Academy’s rigorous faculty – which was ‘multicultural’ before the term was drained of its power – I was swept up by his demanding standards.

Our staff meetings were like graduate seminars on urban education. He led us in rich conversations designed to raise the entire staff’s IQ, to focus on actual teaching and learning, and to place our educational work within an international context. And when we were all EXASPERATED by one or more knuckleheads, he’d listen to our whining and wishes for expulsion. Then he’d smile and dismiss our complaints. ‘We’re in business to educate just that student! This is why we’re paid the big bucks! Let’s figure it out!

No student was expendable. We earned our chops succeeding with so-called ‘difficult’ students. Chagrined, we’d take that deep breath – faculty from India, Ghana, Guyana, and African America – and dive back into each class wielding every intellectual and emotional tool we could muster on behalf of our students. I felt Irv was particularly challenging me. I was only 5 years out of high school myself. I myself had been a bright student whose underperformance exasperated teachers. If I were ready to expel a kid, instead of marshaling the energy, ideas and creative pedagogy to inspire a student, how the hell could I call myself a teacher! The Headmaster’s belief in me, his expectations of me, and his faith in the potential of so-called at-risk students fueled me then and it fuels me now.

For sure, Dr. Irving S. Hamer Jr. was a complex man. After the Street Academy, he’d go on to dynamic and controversial and innovative high-performance positions in New York, Memphis and Miami. For me, he was a formative member of a cohort of men who – after my father, uncles and big brothers – taught me to trust myself by trusting me with substantial responsibility. They hired me to teach, to write newspaper columns, to edit publications. I trace a direct line from their confidence in me to my confidence in myself.

Irv and I never worked together again, but over the years we’d swap a note or talk by phone. I’d send him clips of my writing. He’d turn me on to an editor at a NY publishing house. Introduce me to jazz and orchestral music. In perhaps the most satisfying flip for me: Irv let me publish a tender personal essay he wrote about raising his son, in Genetic Dancers, a magazine ‘for and about The Artistry Within African/American Fathers’ that I published during the 1980s.

In the spirit of Sankofa, and in honor of The Headmaster, I’ll conclude by excerpting below “The Headmaster & the Sports Editor,” an essay included in The Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right.’

Here’s to mining our past to fetch lessons for now and tomorrow. Sail on Brother Irving! Fly with the wind!


On my first morning with The Headmaster, it was sundown in the room. The lights in his study were nightclub subtle. In the background, moody John Coltrane saxophone curled from hidden speakers…. Dr. Irving S. Hamer, Jr. was simply the suavest brother I’d ever met in a professional setting … as self contained as Miles Davis, in full effect as the Prince of Darkness… He’s sitting behind his desk with his legs crossed, as if he were Miles on break, nursing a drink and waiting for me work up my nerve to ask if I could sit-in once his band reassembled on stage. Predictably, Dr. Hamer speaks in this subsonic tone of voice that makes me lean forward to hear, and makes me speak softly my own damn self. This was the coolest and scariest job interview I’d ever had and it hadn’t even started yet!

He even asks me if I wanted some mineral water and I said, uh, sure.

I damn near choked on my first taste of Perrier carbonation.

Finally, Dr. Hamer asks me whether I could teach Black teenagers how to write.

“How would you go about teaching them? Why do you want to teach at the Academy? What’s your teaching philosophy? Do you think that Black teenaged drop outs have what it takes to be taught in an academically rigorous environment?”


The Prince of Darkness is not bullshitting!

At that moment, I swear I felt myself maturing, like in time-stop photography. I sat up more erectly in my chair. Right then and there I knew I wanted to work with this man.

Teaching was the most demanding, exasperating, triumphant work I’ve ever done as a professional. Orchestrating a classroom with 15-20 students staring at me made me a man.

… By selecting me to become a Street Academy teacher, he allowed me to contribute to the heroic history of African American education, a legacy that included grammar and cross-cultural lessons among captives on slave ships, brush arbor reading sessions, mutual aid societies, one-room rural schools, nascent public schools during Reconstruction after the Civil War, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. By hiring me, Irv also became another member of that beautiful community of Black men who have since childhood demonstrated their faith in my actual talents and my potential. [T]hey knew how to conduct my idealism, my genius, into the direction of freedom.

BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right’ : “… Go head on, brother…. Maybe not triumph, just yet. But go head on and see what the end’s going to be …. In our journey to brotherhood, we’ve become thoroughly human and abundantly on display ….”

Coaxing Calypso from Life’s Indentations —

Been grappling. Money. Quilting projects into coherent proposals. Truly wondering if focusing on happiness contributes enough during the concussion waves of Trump Time.

Been doubting. Transitions. Riding countdown to my late April birthday. Honestly awed that after turning Page 60 four years ago, I am still energized, creative, hungry, curious, sensual, and generating my own waves that dawn like Frankie’s Golden Time of Day.

Got me thinking of steel pan players, who coax music from indentations!

Got me remembering voices I heard once, while watching the sun rise in Bahia, Brasil:

Surge… Do everything! Do everything! [Do what’s ‘doable,’ in the words of Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai!]. Seek democratic reverence to fight terrorisms, intimate and social! Seek Nobility. Just Be Eternal.

Four years later, feeling devoid of funk, I tell myself – WILL myself – to think, to laugh and to swoon. Forge imagination, dreams, visions, and poetry into tools, into strategies, for living my happiest life!

And when I find myself tripping, these tools of uncensored self-expression help me push back against brooding with a discerning introspection. They help me maintain equilibrium against what’s pushing down on me. They keep me from settling for the easily branded, the empty ‘it’ll be alright,’ the generic Namaste. They help me stay kaleidoscopic!

In all the work, I want it personal and I want it political. I want it to laugh and I want it to weep. I want it to pose questions and I want it to attempt elemental answers. I want it conversational and I want it poetic. I want it sober and I want it to slip you into trance. I want it bold and I want it vulnerable. I want it BLACK AF and I want it to engender robust cultural exchange.

At whatever volume, I want to consolidate concussion into bass line that keeps sanity on the One, and helps me pivot, when head winds slap me upside the head, when wind shear slashes me across the face.

Embracing my 60s, I’m still learning to bend and blend, critique the workings and abuses of state power, and distill sweet honey from the rocks and hard knocks.

I’m still learning to cultivate my IQ – Inspirational Quotient – so I stay supple, humane; so I tap inspiration, renewal; so I hold my confidence, in crisis or celebration.

Wreaking Happiness is more than a notion. I want to live life fiercely and with resiliency. I want to neutralize the corrosion of this ugly social moment. I want to cast counter spells that defuse violence, intimate and social.

Standing on that beach in Bahia, I got chills. I felt the flow of my blood synchronize and swell and surge with the planet’s orbit, rotate and wobble. I swooned as our movement slowly unveiled the star of our solar system.

I was reminded to nurture my inner sunrise. Gaze at the sunrise in others. Wield my voice. Transcribe life’s indentations into my song. Coax Calypso from my cacophony!

Then … Get up, get down, get funky, get loose

BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right’ : “…I’m making happiness the key enzyme, the untapped catalyst, the missing ingredient, to all of my individual, organizational, and community social justice work targeted at (choose one): THE BLACK MAN, MEN AND BOYS OF COLOR, AT-RISK YOUTH. With all due respect to religion, to the greatness of the STRUGGLE, with much respect to valuable social service of every kind, getting beyond our pursuit of happiness to actually claiming happiness is the necessary 21st Century mission to refuel ourselves, to tap the cultural creativity bequeathed to us by the African American Odyssey, and to tap our own unique personal endowments. Then we can work this wave of digital media, evolving family configurations, and demographic shifts. We can multi-task to get past survival. To thrive. We can bundle effective strategies into a supple suite of approaches to living that gets into our emotional crevices and sweeps away the residue of the gross oppression that once served to fire our notions of resistance and mutual salvation….”

Human Racial? Answering the Call to Community —

“I need someone to walk me to the stairs!”

Earlier, I heard him shouting for another Metro passenger to turn down his music. I was standing down the aisle on the same car, a crowd of passengers between us.

In fact, dude got so frustrated that he stood up, tapped his stick through the parting crowd, pressed the intercom, and ordered the train driver to exit the cockpit and quiet the DJ. The driver poked out his head and assessed the situation. After a couple-minute-rundown, the driver weighed in on the blind brother’s behalf.

“Turn down the music. He’s listening for the announcements. He can’t hear upcoming stops.”

Logic shushed the music. The blind brother returned to his seat. He continued his cell phone conversation. Talking at the top of his lungs!

When we heard the announcement for Union Station, homeboy stood up and shouted out his recruitment notice:

“I need someone to walk me to the stairs.”

Crickets. He stood brazenly within the silence.

Really, hypocrite! At first, I laughed to myself. Irony. Lost. On. This. Individual.

And truth be told, I’m used to hearing trippy monologues on the train. But most soloists don’t end their scenes asking to be escorted off the train.

Then I had to give it up to my man. I mean, in the first place, don’t you have to be brazen riding the train Black and blind? I didn’t imagine his travel options included a chauffeur.

I decided I had a role to play. From where I stood, I shouted down the length of the car.

“I got you, man!”

I walked up to the cat and told him I was standing to his left. He continued speaking loudly into his phone. Telling a story about money and service dogs and how much they cost and how he chooses to manage on his own.

When the train stopped, he took my right arm and we exited. He remained on his phone, igging me like I was actually on the clock as his chauffeur!

As the crowd thinned, we got closer to the stairs. I asked if we were walking at a pace “cool for you?”

“Just get me to the stairs. I’m good after that.”

“What’s your name?”


“What’s your name?”


We reached the top of the stairs.

“We here.”

He just released my right arm. I don’t recall him saying thanks. I took the steps at my normal pace. I could still hear his voice above the drone at Union Station.

Escorting Prince Eric! A Hallmark Moment? Hell to the no! But a Human Moment. Oh yes yes yes!

You definitely need to be human to answer a call to community!

Riding LA Metro Wreaking Happiness! People get ready, there’s a train a coming!

BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right’ : “… I’m a healer. Not the elusive The Healer. Just one healer against manipulation and for inspiration. Believing Black men have the capacity to act and do right. Resting on our tradition of contribution above and beyond any definition that describes us only as reflections of male privilege. I want to communicate with Black men. I want to encourage us to be our best selves. I want to help heal our wounds. I have high expectations of Black men. My calling card is the benefit of the doubt. I am not trying to be an expert or spokesman for Black men. I see Black men as experts on their own lives. I humbly ask them what’s on their minds. I listen. I risk trust. I believe if I come at brothers cleanly they will respond cleanly. My experience says with common sense and common courtesy we can short circuit a lot of defensiveness and belligerence just below the surface in some brothers. My experience says passionate and persistent common sense and common courtesy are actually political styles that counter attack America’s historical breakdown on Black men….”

Mastering Happiness? Try a Little Tenderness —

I am a militant falsetto, onna move to sow sacred ground, my voice subtle as background radiation, indivisible as dark matter, whispering so gentle a Christian aunt swoons. An American man, I genuflect to the reverb of Curtis Mayfield’s mantras in 3-minute anthems.

I am a militant falsetto, converting agony of foremothers and forefathers chained within clauses of declarations, flinging alchemy and medicine from within the tectonics vexing barometers of who can I be, who our country’s history says I can be. If I more than nudge my volume past protocol, suddenly I become a Black man who frightens the uninitiated.

When I first saw the cactus in bloom, some 15 years ago, I was hiking the hills of Mount Washington in LA with Olga, friend and educator, fierce poet and cultural worker. A blossoming cactus! Turned me out, DC boy that I am. Honestly, I wasn’t all into the beauty of cactus. Olga broke down how her kin made meals from certain cactus. Olga refocused my sight. Reminded me to see all at once the thorns and the blossoms, the militance and the falsetto.

Recently, Instagram’s algorithm nudged me with an old photo I’d posted of a blossoming cactus. I promptly shared the image with Olga, who I’d last seen in her own IG posts walking the picket line with striking LAUSD teachers. Olga’s response turned me out.

Nature saves. And nourishes. Every single day. The world is mad, Mr. Peter …. On some days the world terrifies me …. The ugliness makes me ill. In the soul. But there is the other side where the good & love resides. Hope you’re well. And finding joy despite it all – I know you are. Un abrazo.

I wrote her back: “I feel you. Big SOCIAL ugliness. INTIMATE ugliness. Backwashing between and among us all. Honestly, I’ve been working diligently to concentrate on how I am behaving in my daily anonymous flow. Remembering to be polite whether I’m on the bus or in the liquor store buying a lottery ticket. Listening for my mother’s voice. My mother used to INSIST on courtesy. You’ve got me thinking about how to become, like, a master at wading through it all with a mind to NEVER be a conduit for the bullshit, to break circuit on the bullshit. Protecting myself by connecting with nature, like you said. Imagining something richer….Hugs back at you too!

A compassionate exchange in an era where empathy is chum for sharks in business suits and MAGA hats, in the U.S. and abroad. Children are required to face judges on their own. ICE SWAT teams are sicced on workers. Border ‘security’ tear-gases desperate asylum seekers. A queer politician resigns from the Brazilian legislature in fear of his life. Men and women, already demonized, are forced to harvest produce beneath boiling clouds darkening skies from fires. Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever is rebranded in rhetoric that appeals to some mythical magical state of Whitelessness.

The world is mad, Mr. Peter ….

I am a militant falsetto for integrity. I discern my masculine independence dousing for a jubilant individuality. I dedicate myself to nurturing humane collaborations for democratic outcomes. I listen for the sound and message of my blossoming song.

BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right’ —

“…In his essay, “Love and the Enemy,” from his book, Flyboy in the Buttermilk, Greg Tate inspires me, and reminds us all, that “any liberation or empowerment strategy that doesn’t grow out of love, in its most constructive, critical, and compassionate senses, is useless.” Tate then throws it down: “The warriors we need to step forward now aren’t the confrontational kind, but healers…. if we don’t exercise our capacity to love and heal each other by digging deep into our mutual woundedness, then what we’re struggling for is merely the end of white supremacy — and not the salvaging of its victims….” Here I go, trying to say something with legacies at stake. I don’t want another Black boy or man to capitulate to inner demons. I don’t want another Black man demonized and destroyed by society’s various methods of profiling. I don’t want another brother to dismiss happiness, because ours has never been a national priority. I don’t want another dude to dismiss happiness as corny and unmanly and irrelevant to being real, because happiness has been designated and assigned and claimed as the exclusive domain of history’s philosophers, parchment, and patriarchs. We deserve happiness…. Let’s become ‘dap’ for one another: gentle fist bumps of encouragement and mutual acceptance of a national consciousness of community…. [the] resonant sphere of my militant falsetto. Only my falsetto can contain the vulnerability I need for these holiest of testimonies, the hopes drawn from my most sacred struggles. Only my falsetto feeds the fire of VoiceMusic that I pray will move you….”

My Season of Changing for the Better Faster

“Here.” Left Hand Circle Drawing by Peter J. Harris

Winter Solstice 2018 … and I’m guided by the question, What will I live for?

I’m energized by the mantra, Change for the better faster!

I’m inspired to tap creativity, imagination and inspiration as indispensable tools for constructive resolution of personal trauma and social drama.

Recently, in a TEDxPasadena Talk with my daughter, I testified most personally about how I answered the question and lived the mantra.

We stood shoulder-to-shoulder. I was her ‘Be There Man!’ We spoke of our 15 years of healing work, after my daughter suffered at the hands of her former stepfather. I told our audience that I learned, with my daughter’s guidance, the value of being a presence of integrity in her life. I also celebrated the healing presence of a group of good men in my life.

Looking back, I learned how worthless I would have been to her, if I had reacted with exaggerated demands for respect … silence at the crossroads … ‘bring it on’ as problem-solving strategy … or any other tone-deaf masculine reactions that pulsed with threat, were inflamed by revenge and sought satisfaction in violence.

Our situation required me to act beyond clichés. In real time, I needed to find and speak the words of love, atonement, vision, and partnership. I had to show up, and be relentless about showing up, to help rebuild sacred father-daughter intimacy.

During the crisis, and now as the next phase of our life unfolds, I’ve learned that my actual power is quite simple. Speaking up. Speaking out. Standing as a persistent ethical presence. All while bearing witness to possibility in the face of conventional thinking.

That’s why I tell anyone who will listen: my quest for happiness is not to avoid ugliness – in my intimate life, in American society, or, for that matter, anywhere in the world. Happiness is the prism, the mission, through which to view and refract human ugliness and guide me through storms into sanity. Happiness is the fuel for my inner reverb! It’s my reboot tool. It’s my vision tool.

Happiness keeps me on the hunt for compassion practices…

Happiness helps me remain a conduit to transmit wisdom across generations…

I don’t mean happy-go-lucky, either, a Ben Carsonian update on minstrel do dah day. I mean happy. In stride. Synergies ringing like a vibraphone’s fluorescent notes.

Connecting me to epic reasons for living as unique as fingerprints, and repping an inner fortitude and Fandango that refreshes other folks, even when we’re all facing and negotiating the isht hitting the fan.

I think of Wreaking Happiness as the Record of a Good Man grappling to become a grown man, distancing himself from conventions, claiming and committing to a dynamically humane execution of masculinity. (Have Mercy!)

I invite you to think of Wreaking Happiness as the working journal of a dude crafting the skills needed to steep himself in Conversion … unleash himself as Enzyme … situate himself as Catalyst … place his trust in Transformation….

How could I earn the term of endearment, Angel Pot Pie, uttered by Miss Joyce, the 90-something-year-old best friend of my late mother?

What is the lullaby that plays if I don’t handle my business and it comes home to handle me?

Where can I lay my head?

Whose child am I?

At the dawn of a new year, I don’t act because I KNOW the future.

I act because I BELIEVE in the future.

I act because I want to MAKE the future.

I have my fears, but I ain’t scared.

BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right’ —

“… I’m trying to catalogue when I’ve [felt happiness], identify the characteristics consistent to the experiences, figure out what mindsets, actions, meditations, spells, and collaborations I’ve wielded to mesh with, incite, recognize, intensify, even jack up, the sensational. Then stitch awareness into my dynamic doing of the do, so I decrease the time between peaks and increase the time between valleys. And beneath this insight is peeping the difference between fear and being scared. Fear and being scared are not synonymous. Fear is healthy. Being scared is not. Fear is hard-wired into human motivation for survival: it’s smart to fear a predator or predatory situation. Fear revs up my instincts to create a solution, create safety. Fires up my mind and unveils the options and associations and the combo of skills and improv right on time that resolve into actual solutions with mutual benefits and re-creations and wholeness. Being scared is taught into us through ritualized Do As I Say Do! Being scared substitutes and rewards outside sanction over the sustained, independent quest for power-on-power, eye-to-eye, harmony within interdependent strength.”