This year’s installment of our Black History Month project focuses on Black Joy, the practice of celebrating black culture and black people despite the world dictating otherwise. From the election of President Barack Obama as America’s first Black president to personal moments like mending familial relationships, Philly residents share intimate details about what represents their joy and what makes them proud to be African American.

Jamal McKinney

Age: 36
Neighborhood: North Philadelphia
Occupation: Dietz & Watz Sandwich specialist

A Black Joy moment for me was seeing the first African-American President, Barack Obama, get elected for two terms. I’m not even really a political person, but just to see that a Black man could be a president was really a moment for me.

Jonathan Love

Age: 28
Neighborhood: Darby, South Philadelphia
Occupation: Transportation worker

My Black Joy moment was when I had the opportunity to go down to Washington D.C. to the African American Museum (National Museum of African American History and Culture) and just see all the wonderful accomplishments that Blacks have done over the years. It was a really cool experience to be able to be happy about and to have something that’s our own that you can share with other people.

Nicole Palin

Age: 41
Neighborhood: Northeast Philly
Occupation: Graduate student

One of my Black Joy moments was, of course, the election of President Barack Obama. To me that was like a pinnacle in our history. We waited almost 150 years for that to happen.
My other Black Joy was being able to spend time with my father after he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He lived another year and a half after that and it really pushed our relationship together. All the things that we had issues on in our relationship were able to be solved and mended before he passed on.

Alicia Dorsey

Age: 47
Neighborhood: Mt. Airy
Occupation: Mentor at King High School

 The photo is of my adopted sister Krystal being held by her husband Mark Akins and his Overbrook Arts family. Mark Akins and the Overbrook crew met in high school and continue to support each other as adults. The men together holding Krystal Akins symbolizes their commitment to making sure Mark and Krystal are supported in their marriage. These brothers helped pay for the wedding, and gave great advice to the newlyweds. This is Black Joy being passed amongst friends.

Tammy Dancy

Age: 52
Neighborhood: West Philadelphia
Occupation: Caregiver

My Black Joy was when we had the first African-American president. That was one of my moments and the birth of my grandson. That’s a type of black joy like no other.

Ursula Augustine

Age: 54
Neighborhood: Chelteham
Occupation: Make-up artist, entrepreneur

For me, Black Joy is family!

The enduring family harmony, the unconditional love, unyielding faith, and unity of the "Family Collective"- defined as a group of people, in this case, siblings who can develop and maintain their own individuality, while also remaining connected to one another.

Chinazo Enigwe

Age: 23
Neighborhood: Uptown
Occupation: Founder, KAMSI Magazine

One of the best way I can define black joy is seeing yourself in a light that others try to dim. I was given many opportunities to believe that I wasn't beautiful or enough. Sometimes I entertained those thoughts, but the moment I actually enjoyed me, the undeveloped, flawed, and improper me, was when I found the joy. "I found God within myself". I was bullied in middle school, taken advantage of in high school, and struggled with identity in college. But, still, I rejoiced. I would admit, it took me a lot to put myself together after feeling shattered, but within that tough process, I learned how to love myself. I am a working progress, but I am enjoying the process. I dance in front of crowds, sing when I'm off tune, and most importantly, live care free.  My journey is why I started my magazine, KAMSI, for all the girls who were like me and needs that moment to experience and express joy.

Brandon Brown

Age: 46
Neighborhood: 
West Philadelphia
Occupation: Director of Diversity and Inclusion at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School

"My black joy moment is when I get to see my Sigma Betas (fraternity youth group members) graduate from high school. For a lot of them, it's been a long journey and the look they give me when they see me there supporting them...that's joy."

Denise Brame

Age: 50
Neighborhood: 
West Philadelphia
Occupation: Direct care worker for seniors and children

"My black joy moment was the election of our first black president. That made me proud. Hearing him win was such a joyful moment."

Ashley Thomas

Age: 34
Neighborhood: Northeast Philadelphia (Torresdale)
Occupation: Operations Manager at Bartlett Bearing Company 

It was really important to me that my daughter understood the significance of this event so prior to arriving at the NMAAHC we visited the Smithsonian National Museum of American History where there were small exhibits on the contributions of African-Americans in our nation's history. She needed to see the transition from having a small space to having a building of our own on the national mall that dives deeper into our unique history. I felt empowered when my daughter's eyes widened as we approached the NMAAHC, when she asked questions while viewing each exhibit and when she asked "When are we coming back?" as we left.

We ended the day at the Martin Luther King Monument. As sun set on the Tidal Basin my daughter and I marveled over the words of Dr. King and realized that his words "Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope" rang true and were so evident in the progress we have made in this country and with construction of the NMAAHC. Our story is a story unique to America and should be recognized on a national and global level. Sharing this experience with my daughter on this historic day was my Black Joy moment.

Evon Burton

Age: 29
Neighborhood: Mt. Airy
Occupation: Marketing and Outreach Supervisor, Philadelphia FIGHT & Creative Director, The Anderson Street Project

I think the social climate of last year made me feel a little "home sick." News reports made it seem like Blacks lacked value and were disposable, especially to the men in blue. Almost the antithesis to the lessons taught at my Historically Black College, Morehouse College, on a daily basis.

I needed to go "home." I needed that reminder that being Black is an asset not a liability. I needed to get to my Homecoming. For those who have never been to an HBCU Homecoming, they are far beyond any generalized silver screen portrayal. It is more than just football and bands. It is a celebration of gratitude for the institutions that were created to make the Black community stronger and the fraternal bonds formed during our years on campus. It is a showcase of Black artistic creativity, athletic ability, and all around excellence.

Due to finances and poor planning, I was unable to make it to my own Homecoming . However, Howard University's served as the perfect substitute.  Not going to lie, I fully went with the intention of judging the festivities. The rivalry between HBCUS can get real sometimes. However, love was all around. From the joy of "Swag Surfin'" as one to the reunions of former high school classmates, college friends, and new acquaintances, the spirit of community was abound.

Sometimes we just need to go home. Thanks for the reminder, Howard.

*Evon is pictured on the far left 

Sharif El-Mekki

Age: 45
Neighborhood: West Philly
Occupation: Principal

Black joy. It is seeing my one-year-old child defiantly tell me, "that's MY Mama!" when I try and sneak a hug with my wife after returning home from work. It's when I see the bond between my children and their grandparents and I whimsically think of what that must feel like. Black joy is listening to our students talk about community, identity, resistance, and their education. Black joy is when students take out a book from my personal library and chide me for not having a larger variety. It is when talented students use their art forms to resist. Resistance through the arts is what we tell them they're doing.

Black joy is listening to students' aspirations, yet not believing them. You know in your heart they'll surpass those goals that they've set. Black joy is watching them beam and nod when you tell them so.

Black joy is expecting 30-50 Black men to attend The Fellowship's inaugural Black Male Educators Convening, yet 150 were in attendance. We were not expecting to become a formal group. We had 17 Black male educators, celebrating wins, lifting each other up, problem-solving. When some of the youth asked that we invite others, I initially balked. I was comfortable with our small, intimate group. But, they pushed. They led. And, the response from our community of educators was overwhelming. As I march towards "elderhood," Black joy is watching our youth lead. The baton will be in great hands.

Melony Roy

Age: 34
Neighborhood: Old City
Occupation: President, Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists

My great grandmother has always been my number one supporter. She told me I could be anything I wanted in life but I'd never be president because she didn't think there would ever be a Black president.  My joy is that she has lived to see our first Black President and I'll never tell my children, grandchildren and hopefully my great grandchildren that there is anything in life they can't do because of the color of their skin.

Franchella Slater

Age: 43
Neighborhood: South Philadelphia
Occupation: Funeral director

In a time when our communities are experiencing death from victims of gun violence, cancer, and battle in war combat; I've seen the black joy through an outpouring of love and support in our community.

As a funeral director at Slater Funeral Home in South Philadelphia, I've been with families during their lowest points helping them cope with death. However, I've seen strangers, neighbors, and distant family and friends come support a wife bury her husband after 50 years of marriage. She was overjoyed at seeing all the people that comforted her during the funeral. In addition, she was emotionally touched by the military presentation that honored her husband for serving our country.

I've also witnessed a mother, wife and children bury the man that kept the family glued together. The sheer joy came when you heard the testimonies of the deceased man's life. He was a man that stood for integrity, loving to everyone and had an impact on so many people that the church is standing room only.

However, the greatest black joy moment was seeing a wife 15 years later after I buried her husband following a tragic car accident and she said, "Look at my daughter and son all grown up and they act just like their dad." The black joy is the fact that the family endured during that difficult tragedy but continued the legacy of their husband and father.  I am honored and humbled to witness black joy at a funeral by seeing people extend kindness, unconditional love, and support.

Monica Muhsin  

Age: 36
Neighborhood
Germantown
Occupation
Pharmacy Technician at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania

For my Black Joy moment, I would like to put a spotlight on my husband Ali. Ali has always been a staple in the community - whether volunteering his time to his non-profit basketball organization (GYBA) or Running his business. With every step that Ali makes, he thinks about the long-term effect it would have on his community. He opened his pet supply boutique (which is located in the Germantown area of Philadelphia) to create jobs in the community he was born and raised in. His determination to lift someone else up is far greater than any selfish reason anyone else could have for success. His motto has always been 'Help others and your blessings will flow." He’s a natural leader, mentor, husband and father

Vivianne Castillo  

Age: 26
Neighborhood: West Philly
Occupation: User experience designer

I'd like to talk about my husband. I'm half Nigerian, quarter Jamaican and quarter Korean and my husband is half Filipino and half Cuban. While my husband affirms my overall beauty, he is incredibly intentional in affirming how my blackness is beautiful. I grew up in a mostly white area, in a mostly white school and it seemed like most of the guys were only interested in my white classmates. "Why?" I asked with skepticism, taking a break from our wedding planning. "Why, what?" he asked.

"Why, do you think being black is beautiful?"

"I don't understand the question."

"Derick, why do you think being black is beautiful? I need to understand why you affirm my blackness, why you love the color of my skin."

"You're my queen, Vivianne. I love everything about you. You're black and your blackness makes you beautiful. I don't know how else to explain it, so that's the best I can do."

And I felt like the first time I believed it, was the face he made when he saw me walking down the aisle on our wedding. It's my first memory of me believing that being black was beautiful. 

Samuel Reed III  

Age: 56
Neighborhood: Overbrook
Occupation: High School Humanities Educator

I remember when I first volunteered for the US Peace Corps. Many people asked, “Why did you want to go work in Botswana, Africa?”  Not only did I have my MBA; I was positioned for a well paid, corporate job, "a piece of the American dream". But I was returning to my ancestral beginning… returning to the homeland.
As an African American volunteer, I walked a cultural tightrope. Both my American colleagues and African counterparts often confused my presence.  I felt like Ralph Ellison's invisible man. I was not invisible because I was not seen, but because I was often seen through.  I was an outsider in the land of my “roots”. I was often questioned endlessly by Botswana's citizens, "o tswa kae?" - where are you from-?  Or I heard, "why don't you speak Setswana like us?"  My mere presence provoked questions.  My expectations when I volunteered were high and romanticized.  I had thought the people of Botswana would quickly accept me and say, "welcome to the motherland."
After serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana, I ran my own business in Botswana for 5 years. Currently, I teach students to read, write and make sense of the world as  Humanities at the U School. I share the literature life with young impressionable minds. This task is often difficult, because my students often do not have the chance to even travel across town. However, my students have helped me understand that knowledge is transformative.  Therefore, these days when my shadow appears people notice that I am real a person, a human being, live and in the flesh.  No longer do I hide in my own shadow; mine is a voice to be heard.  I am no longer an "invisible man." 

Jamira Burley 

Age: 28
Neighborhood: Washington, D.C. (originally from West Philadelphia)
Occupation: Community Impact Consultant

Two years ago, I was doing a training for the Brookings Institute to go to Rwanda. On our way back to the U.S., we found out that our flight was canceled and we had a 48-hour layover in Ethiopia. I always wanted to go to Ethiopia because in DC, there's a huge Ethiopian population. I was with five other people and we explored for a good 32 hours. I was the only person of African descent and random people approached me and asked me if I was Ethiopian. It showed me how as Black people, we  can blend in with almost any ethnic background, because we're so diverse. It may sound  cliche, but I felt like I had come home. We went to the villages and the schools and I was blown away by the energy of the place. I felt like everywhere I looked, I wanted to hold on to something tangible. I felt a sense of peace. I really felt like it was probably one of the best trips I have had in my life. I learned to treat people with warmth in kindness like they treated me in Ethiopia.So often there's a disconnect between African-Americans and Africans. Until you go there and you see why they wear a certain headdress or wear a certain face makeup...that's when you truly get to appreciate it.  To my African brothers and sisters,  when Black Americans  wear traditional African clothes, they're finding  a piece of themselves that has been snatched away.  I wondered how I could be so far away from home but not far away from home.

Zach Blackwood

Age: 25
Neighborhood: South Philadelphia
Occupation: Programming Coordinator, Kimmel Center

My grandmother was one of the realest, no-bulls--- people I've ever met in my life. My grandma was Dr. Frenzella Elaine DeLancey, a Ph.D. and university professor for over 30 years. She passed in 2011, but I continue to interact with her through the parts of her that remain physically present in my life. I have a sign from the door of her office. It says in capital letters—"IF AFROCENTRICITY IS A HUSTLE, THEN LET'S DANCE".

I've met dozens of black women who have reminded me of my grandmother since she died. She continues to inspire me through the facets of her I see in black women every day; charged particles of recognition. A black woman smiling in the rain or ordering a lemonade from the Starbucks.

In 2014, I graduated from Drexel University, and my grandmother wasn't there to see me.  I was invited to represent the art school by speaking at my graduation alongside a black woman from another college. To my incredible surprise, she thanked Dr. F.E. DeLancey in her speech by name with no knowledge of our relation. I cried. There is black joy in remembering whose shoulders you're standing on. There is black triumph, black jubilation, black gravity in knowing that other people remember their legacy too.

Omar Barlow

Age: 40
Neighborhood: East Falls
Occupation:  CEO of Eastern University Academy Charter School and author, "Don't Be Scared, Live on Purpose,"

Success and excellence are some of the words we use when talking about student transformation.  The reality for many of our students is these words don't manifest without sweat, failed attempts, prayers, tears, and patience. Teachers struggle daily to move students forward academically, socially, and emotionally.

Eleventh-grade student, Brittany, reminds me to never give up and the importance of upholding the vision, even when students actions are at odds with the vision.  At times, you question whether a student is worth the fight, worth going the extra mile.  Brittany was.  She was habitually truant with no respect for peers or teachers. Every disciplinary effort was made to control and connect with her to no avail. One day she sat in my office with her hair, nails and eyelashes and I asked: "Is anything real? Is everything fake?"

She laughed - a small victory.

We had just discovered Brittany's passion: hair and makeup. I had a sense people rarely made a big deal over what Brittany liked. To connect her with her passion every day was our new task. It gave her a reason to be on time and respectful to my staff. I gave her a gift, Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America.I checked on her every morning and soon a different young lady emerged. We gave her the tools to begin her passion project - holding a Hair Care Workshop at the school.

What we all thought was a lost cause was not – she just needed someone to reach her in the right way. Because I let her know she was worth the effort, she has made an extra effort to get a job, complete her schoolwork, and clean up her personal relationship- her success is my Black Joy.

Teresa Ward-Maupin

Age: 44
Neighborhood: Bryn Mawr
Occupation:  Vice President of Customer and Digital Experience, Comcast Business

College was where I was confronted with and embraced my Blackness. I attended college in Lubbock, Texas. One weekend, a Caucasian fraternity decided to throw a party using the theme Party in the Projects complete with afros and Black face. I remember reading the countless excuses made by students in my college newspaper's comments section labeling the behavior as "normal" or "just a joke". I become enraged. I thought to myself, "I have to put up with this HERE in college?"

I wrote a letter to the newspaper expressing my outrage that this fraternity faced little to no repercussions for their actions. I took a risk writing this letter because even in the early 1990s, the number of minorities on campus was still low. Did my letter make a difference to the students on the predominately Caucasian campus? Probably not. The phrase, "pulling the race card" was repeatedly used to try to silence the voices of dissent. Writing the letter made a difference to me. My Black Joy moment was realizing that it doesn't matter if I am a voice among thousands or a voice of one, silence in the face of bigotry is never an option.

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