At my best, I seek to contribute to a Field of Joy whenever I’m on the set.
Not even sure if it’s joy that I seek to contribute.
But that little word hints at the sensibility I’m summoning into the lexicon describing the fullness of my hunger. That lexicon now features ‘Black Joy’ in many manifestations.
Recently, even my dreams seem bent on helping me discern what’s distinctive about my testimony and action.
SYNERGY OF ONE … was emblazoned across my mind’s movie screen … I smelled an intoxicating fragrance I can’t describe. I took it to mean folks should inhale deeply and pleasurably when I’m at my best around them.
MY PROFILE … was whispered into my mind’s ear … I heard my voice reciting a eulogy that said simply, ‘You knew he was in the room when he was in the room.’
WHY AM I HERE? … my mother and father, who died 10 years apart, were saying this to me as we cleaned up the kitchen in my childhood apartment in Parklands in D.C.
LINE DRIVES AND POP UPS … blinked from a stadium big screen, while down on the field, I’m taking batting practice. I swing the bat perfectly. With each stroke, line drives whine into left center field. With each swing, I remind myself: ‘Don’t waste your at-bats on pop ups!’
Kiara is flying!
My son shared a photo of my granddaughter, the point guard, during a regional playoff game in Florida. The concentration, exhilaration, confidence, and determination on her face gets at the Field of Joy I seek to contribute whenever I’m on the set at my best.
The same magic she shared with me at the bowling alley in the photo above! As young as she was, she was ready to fly. In my mind’s eye, I see her as a child — bold, competitive, open to the realm of her imagination.
Once I was pushing her on the swing at the playground. I still savor her 3-year-old’s blasé dismissal of chronology: ‘When you were little I used to push you on the swing’
Now at 15 she’s leading her high school basketball team. I text from California before games: enjoy yourself, play fair, and WIN (uh, yeah, we definitely playing to win!). This season, her team lost in the state championship by only six points in OT! And she scored 8 points, had 4 assists and 5 steals. I no longer have to stoop for us to high five.
Grandpa Peter must learn to fly!
I once worked regularly with high school students. I accepted the challenge to teach them to value and define celebration as a key motivation for sustaining positive change. Among my approaches, I encouraged them to:
Identify and cultivate life-affirming Inner Resources (hope, curiosity, courage, personal artistry).
Build ‘Inspiration Specs’ into your plans and strategies for creating healthy futures (How will I stay motivated? Which of my allies will lift my spirits when I’m sad? Where can I go for rejuvenation when I’m feeling defeated?).
Intentionally and viscerally position yourself as first-among-equals in the fight to improve your lives.
Sharpen your abilities to identify and describe what you want to live for and how you plan to change for the better faster to reach your goals.
Fingerprint when you’ve been happy, joyful, creative, motivated, inspired, energized, and discern how you can recapture those moments, situations, and seasons in your lives.
Identify what roles your decisions and actions played in the unhappy and dangerous passages of your lives and pinpoint what elements (stories, people, relationships, ideas, root-causes, patterns, attitudes, lessons, teachers) combined in unique ways to create dissatisfying or satisfying experiences.
Set within an atmosphere of ethics, accountability, and affirmation, I wanted to teach them to rigorously speak truth from deep within their unique experiences, and realize collective understandings, insights, and common ground.
I wanted their voices to provide the missing ingredient that can synchronize and harmonize society’s national dialogue about their fates.
I wanted their voices to provide illumination about their individuality and raise society’s IQ (Inspiration Quotient) about how young people can continue to live sane, nonviolent lives, even when knocked to their knees by the dangers and challenges of modern living.
Since I started the Black Man of Happiness Project in 2010, I’m pleased to observe the evolution of several other humanizing initiatives focusing on ‘Black Joy,’ including:
Black Men Smile, designed to “ask Black Men what makes them smile…and work to create sustainable environments where we can do it more often”
Black Joy and Resistance, A Photo Book by Adreinne Waheed
Sleeping Beauty, a photo-series by Kunjo of Brooklyn, NY, featuring “intimate portraits” of Black men while they sleep
Brother Breathe, Ashley Wilkerson’s “trauma-informed, creative workshop,” often held at The Tree South LA, specifically designed for Black boys and men seeking peace, which was inspired by her brother John John who was murdered at the age of 28.
I also note that California Humanities, the independent nonprofit and partner of the NEH, awarded a Quick Grant in Winter 2019 to Chapter 510 Ink in Oakland for a poetry workshop called “Black Joy: Poetry with Young Black Men.The workshop culminated with an anthology published by Nomadic Press, edited by Cal State Monterey Bay Professor Daniel B. Summerhill.
And in February 2020 the 3rd annual Black Joy Parade was held in Oakland.
About three years ago, I was at a powerful gathering exploring the education of African American male students. Theme: 12 Years a Student. I was slotted to make a creative presentation right after lunch to the entire group. Honestly, I didn’t know what I planned to say or read, but I knew I would open up my 15-minute slot by playing the thumb piano (channeling big brother Maurice White).
Sound from the kalimba echoed throughout the roomful of educators, scholars, young folks, community workers, policy & admin ‘Civil Rights Warriors,’ all of whom work on some part of the front lines to protect, inspire and learn, in service of A/A male students.
Within seconds, we’d all entered a beautiful zone of serenity and magic and meditation. Before long, I began a story about how I once told former students on the first day of class:
‘Each one of you is a genius. It’s my job to help you find it and use it.’
I felt chills recounting a transformational time in my life. I suddenly heard to my left a young man quietly sobbing as I again played the kalimba to resolve my presentation.
Afterwards, I thanked him for his honest show of emotions. He thanked me for reminding him that inspiration plays a role in education. Not even sure if it was joy that I contributed to the set, but I was confident we could say to each other:
‘You knew he was in the room when he was in the room.’
BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right,’ WINNER, 2015 AMERICAN BOOK AWARD: “… As a mid-level elder, at 1,000 O’clock, I actually am happy. I’m glad to be alive, still feeling youthful, during this accelerated age. Joyful that I’ve helped educate hundreds of students since my 20s. But I’m also righteously indignant that in the public mind the idea of my happiness sounds strange, like it’s easier to glance up and see Jesus Crunking barefoot at a club than to conceive of a happy Black man. I ain’t saying we were violated any more than Black women, nor that we took none of this lying down. The resistance, the inventiveness, the self-reliance, the imagination, the very very well documented timeline of creative disturbance, from the continent of Africa to digital publishing, represents a hunger to remain human against individual and systematic beat downs on our bodies, minds, spirits, and potential. “They burn us when we dogs/They burn us when we men/They come by tens . . .” is the haunting, classically haunting, summation by the poet Sterling Brown. We were brought here to make somebody else happy then die. We were brought here to make somebody else rich then die. We were brought here to die making someone else rich and happy. Who cared about my pursuit of happiness back in the day? Who cares about my happiness now? All abolitionists and allies aside, and much respect to them all, our inner liberation has always been claimed or invented by each and every one of us, even as the most eloquent of brothers left an inspiring collective reservoir into which we could dip for a common language. The Black Man of Happiness … we’ve struggled to be first among equals who protect and maintain an interior world of freedom and purity and spontaneity and silliness …” www.blackmanofhappiness.com/shop