When protests erupted across the nation last summer after publicized reports of police brutality against African Americans, an activist organization arose in Fullerton, aimed at a unique form of resistance: celebrating Black joy.
In July 2020, Upset Homegirls of Fullerton invited their community to march with them at Fullerton City Hall in solidarity with Black Lives Matter protestors, but instead of holding up protest signs, they asked participants to dance while sporting their “BLK JOY” T-shirts as music from Black artists played in the background.
“It’s important, even in all that bad space, to bring all of that goodness,” says Brandy Factory, a founding member of Upset Homegirls. “Because you can’t fight anything without love, and I think there’s a lot of love that’s rooted in Black joy.”
Mei-Ling Malone, Cal State Fullerton African American studies professor, says Black joy has been a part of the African American experience for generations. It’s centered on the concept that despite trauma and oppression, there can be joy.
“Like other communities, Black folks, of course, feel tremendous pain, outrage, sorrow and depression, and we struggle with our mental health. But there is also a necessary longing and practice of joy,” says Malone. “As long as there has been racial oppression, there has also been resistance and Black joy.”
Natalie Graham, who is also an African American studies professor, has examined the influence of activism in art, and recognizes the power of celebration, despite much more work to accomplish in creating a just and equal society.
“I think Black joy acknowledges that, alongside whatever else is happening, we have the full right to feel our emotions,” says Graham. “It’s about honoring our humanity in the fullness of what it means to be alive and to be human.”
Read more about Upset Homegirls and Black joy in this Voice of OC article.