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BW@H Pillar #2: Joy


In 2016, I made my Facebook profile picture a sign that said “Joy is an act of resistance.” The words rang true and aspirational. I wanted to be a joyful person. I wanted to believe that having joy was possible despite years of living with depression and anxiety, doing extensively extractive emotional labor as part of my paid work (which paid poorly), and coming into a healing journey as my eldest daughter entered her adult years. I only understood joy to be elusive, a floating cloud, out there somewhere I just couldn’t get.


And the results from the Joy Quotient assessment I took in 2021 revealed that I still struggled with joy. The assessment provides scores in three areas - self-awareness, self-efficacy, and self-expression of joy. I got an average score of 4.5 out of 10. Y’all, I actually suck at joy! It’s okay though. I’m working on it.


What is joy anyway? For most of my life I thought it meant the same thing as being happy. I thought of joy as a good feeling, a spark of something that might set off a smile or laugh. I have a memory of knowing joy as a Black church girl. I grew up singing this song,


This joy that I have,

The world didn’t give it to me

Oh, this joy that I have,

The world didn’t give it to me

This joy, that I have,

The world didn’t give it to me.

The world didn’t give it,

So the world can’t take it away.


Somehow, I believe the world did take away my joy. I lost it somewhere along the way. Yet, I have a deep nostalgia for what I once knew of it. If I close my eyes and meditate on this song, I hear Rev. Youngblood’s New Orleans flavored rich voice singing it into the microphone, with Mr. Wilson jamming on the organ. I feel the vibrations of clapping hands and stomping feet, see way back into choir members’ mouths as they sing and smile. I hear the timber of the cymbal being hit on the drum set. Bodies sway - Black women in Sunday dresses looking beautiful and Black men standing tall and carrying the bass. We joyed in that song!


Joy, as a verb, means “to experience great pleasure or delight,” according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary. Its noun form means “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” Joy is both an activity and a feeling. Joy is powerful, as it is a source of strength and a force of energy that is hard to diminish.


Dr. Pamela King shared in an interview with Psychology Today, that in her study of joy she noticed


…that joy is more complex than a feeling or an emotion. It is some-

thing one can practice, cultivate, or make a habit. Consequently,

[she] suggest[s] that joy is most fully understood as a virtue that in-

volves our thoughts, feelings, and actions in response to what matters

most in our lives. Thus, joy is an enduring, deep delight in what holds

the most significance.


Toi Derricotte’s poem - The Telly Cycle - introduces us to the phrase “joy is an act of resistance” and Black women took hold of that. We understand it at a spirit level. Joy is roots and culture even if we didn’t/don’t know how to be with it. As social movements, including the Movement for Black Lives, have unfolded, we are reminded that joy is not what white supremacy, misogynoir, and other oppressions want us to have. And many of us have it anyway.


Yet, I think we can entirely miss out on joy by pursuing it and grasping for it. I imagine that joy is not an achievement. Rather, it is a discovery, an unfolding, a witnessing. When we grasp for it, we can experience such deep disappointment for having missed the mark. We are capable of stealing joy from ourselves.


In Sister Outsider… Audre Lorde told us that “once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of.” Joy just is. It is a full cup that exists inside of our souls that can be sipped from as needed, ticklishly by surprise, and calmly when called upon. We don’t have to strive for joy. We need only remember and acknowledge it for it to manifest. Joy is everywhere.


Of course Black women are out here joying ALL over the place. We make monuments and testimonies to joy. While home, before you go to bed or as you sip a morning tea, take in this gift - www.museumofblackjoy.com .


At home, how can we manifest joy? When are we with joy? When I am slow and aware enough, my joy notes include:


  1. Standing at/praying at my altar

  2. Inviting loved ones over for a meal and using my good plates

  3. Random dance parties in the living room with my little girl (especially Girls, We Run the World & Cupid Shuffle)

  4. Belting out songs from my Childhood Gospel playlist

  5. Planting flowers and food in my container garden

  6. Getting to bed by 11pm


What are some of your joy notes?

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