An essential aspect of raising multicultural children is providing them with a broad understanding of the realities of the world they live in. In this world racial injustice persists, human rights are under attack, the effects of climate change are felt and youth depression rates are on the rise. Teaching our children about these realities, and others, is more important than ever. But, as my oldest child has taught me, the challenging truths of the world must be balanced with stories of joy. I am raising mixed children (Black, white and Latino) at a time in which the deaths of Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement cycles regularly through the news. This experience has taught me the importance of Black Joy when the world is on fire.
Black Joy and Multicultural Education
As protests in response to George Floyd’s death raged across the United States and my oldest son attended an Outschool class on Black History, I found him looking to his father and I for more…more than stories of oppression and loss. “Where is the joy?” he asked. “Please, I need more joy.”
And we quickly realized that this was true. Yes, it was important for him to learn Black History and for us not to sugarcoat the harsh realities of racial injustice that have plagued the United States since its inception. Yet, it was equally important that this history include stories of success, of triumph, of joy.
In our efforts to balance the scales, to offer him hope and an understanding of what might be possible, we expanded our own world view and his. And we brought into his world texts and films and other resources that would quickly become favorites.
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Celebrating Black Joy Through Film
In Akeelah and the Bee, Kiki Palmer plays Akeelah, a girl who loves words. Laurence Fishburn is her coach. Akeelah does the unthinkable and competes in the National Spelling Bee. Her growth and joy is a story that we love.
The Black Panther is another favorite (the first, not the sequel). In it, we see a vision of an African nation not plundered by slavery and colonialism. We see Black Joy, cool tech and epic action scenes. What’s not to love?
From the Rough is a lesser known film based on a true story. Taraji P. Henson plays Catana Starks, an African-American woman who became the first ever woman to coach a college men’s golf team.
A Christmas movie favorite, Last Holiday is full of Black Joy as Queen Latifah plays Georgia Byrd. Georgia is an introverted cookware saleswoman at a department store, who receives a diagnosis that changes her life. She travels to Central Europe and lives as joyfully as she can. I won’t share more because I don’t want to spoil it for you. Trust us, this film is definitely a must-see. We watch it every holiday season.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a film that both of my kids cannot get enough of, especially my youngest son who loves superheroes. To see a world in which Spider-Man, such an iconic super hero, is Black brought my kids excessive amounts of joy.
Finally, we want to highlight Summer of Soul, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2022. This documentary tells the story of the Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969. It features so many joyful and incredible performances. It will have you dancing as you explore this incredible cultural event.
Furthermore, you can check out this list of films I put together for Black History Month.
Books that Highlight Black Joy
In truth, I wish this list were longer. If my kids were younger and the list included picture books, it certainly would be. However, in the reading world my sons (11 and 13) are at, this list is longer than we’d like it to be, and yet these books are beloved, especially Jerry Craft’s books. I hope you’ll add to our list by sharing others we should be reading in the comments.
Black Boy Joy: 17 Stories Celebrating Black Boyhood edited by Kwame Mbalia features stories from seventeen critically acclaimed Black authors.
New Kid and Class Act by Jerry Craft are absolutely my son’s favorites. He reads and rereads and rereads these two graphic novels over and over, and was beaming when he first read New Kid as it was the first time a book featured a lead character that looked like him! We can’t get enough of Jerry Craft and are pre-ordering the next book in this series, School Trip. Its release date is April 4, 2023.
A huge Percy Jackson fan, my son also loves the Tristan Strong Series by Kwame Mbalia which includes Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, Tristan Strong Destroys the World, and Tristan Strong Keeps Punching.
Learning Black Joy
We approach learning Black Joy in many ways, not least of which is learning it by example. My sons’ father lives a life of Black joy, running his own business, making video games, teaching video game design to his kids and to other kids. This strong example is essential. He demonstrates them that Black Joy is something that can be lived everyday.
Additionally, we have two packs of Black History Flashcards that float around the house, offering us all opportunities to read about important individuals from Black History on a regular basis, keeping these stories of achievement and hope a part of our daily lives.
Further, we sought out Outschool classes about Black History, Black Innovators and more. Finding classes taught by Black instructors that highlight Black stories is an important part of our answer to my sons request for more joy.
Celebrating and Creating Black Joy
Finally, we also make it a point to celebrate Black Joy and to help our kids’ see their own role as creators of Black Joy as they live their lives. Per my son’s request, we started celebrating Kwanzaa two years ago, and it is now an important part of our holiday season. Additionally, my 13 yo is creating his own video games in response to not seeing enough Black heroes in video games. (Though he does love Spider-Man: Miles Morales, the video game). Empowering him to see his ability to create the change he wants to see in the world is one of our favorite parts of the joy challenge. As are cookies!
We also celebrate Black Joy by supporting Black-owned businesses in our community, and one of our favorites is Rude Boy Cookies. They even ship, so check them out!
This post was created in collaboration with my talented, joyful 13 year-old. Thanks for reading! Please tell us why Black Joy is important to you and what resources you use to highlight it with your children and/or students.
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