* 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: https://digital.library.cornell.edu/catalog/ss:1508544
* 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: https://www.facebook.com/BlackManOfHappinessProject/
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.