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“The True Meaning of Black History, Black Joy, and Black Success”

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    Jordyn Miller

EL Education is celebrating Black History month and Juneteenth with the theme “Black joy” to honor the abundance of Black culture and joy in Black community. In this series, students and teachers from EL Education schools across the country share what Black joy means to them and offer models for affirming Black identity every month so that all students and faculty can thrive.

Jordyn is a 12th grade student at Brooklyn Collaborative Studies in Brooklyn, NY and a member of EL Education’s Student Advisory Council, a group of 12 students nationwide working to leverage their perspectives and experiences to improve education.

Black joy is the acknowledgment and acceptance of Black culture without apology or guilt.

In the news and in history, we most often see examples of Black struggle and of obstacles hindering black people. While this is important to address, it is equally if not more significant to shed light on the positive—the beauty of Black culture, the success of Black people—to affirm our happiness and presence.

Positive Representation Matters

Emphasizing Black joy can improve the self worth and self esteem of Black children.

Common Sense Kids argues that, “Media representation is important to how kids build their perspectives on their own ethnic or racial group.” Constantly exposing children to Black pain and struggle in TV shows and movies can undermine their sense of self. So how do we counteract the negative images on TV? Schools can create clubs that support and empower Black students or classes that teach Black history. Simple changes like these can contribute to young people’s happiness and awareness of their own value.

Madison Myers, a fellow senior at Brooklyn Collaborative School (BCS), told me, “I think it’s important [to think about representation] because a lot of times Black culture or history is suppressed. I think it’s about time we get the representation we deserve.”

Students need to be taught that there is more to Black history than the couple of generic topics teachers often stick into a lesson to accredit Black History Month.

It's imperative that schools find ways to incorporate the true meaning of Black history, Black joy, and Black success in the curriculum year round.

Black Joy and the College March

A time that I truly experienced Black joy was the day of our College March, an event in EL Education schools when school communities across the nation gather to celebrate graduating seniors and their post-graduate plans. Celebrating BCS students on a day that marked the beginning of our lives after high school inspired genuine happiness and excitement for me and my peers. We felt so overwhelmed with support and positivity that day. The experience really stands out to me because there’s a societal perception about young Black individuals that we aren’t good enough or smart enough to attend college, that we can’t afford a proper education, that we don’t even walk across that stage on our graduation day. It’s a sickening but very real stereotype that Black students face. So for me to be surrounded by people who look like me and who are living, breathing proof that those stereotypes can’t stick to us—that moment truly embodied Black joy.

Balancing Struggle and Positivity

Black joy isn’t about diminishing the importance of Black struggle but is rather a way to emphasize the whole truth of the Black experience. It’s a balance. Living in a world that is constantly working against us, we have to choose to be positive or we wouldn’t be leading very fulfilling lives.

Actor and activist Ossie Davis said, “I find in being Black a thing of beauty: a joy; a strength; a secret cup of gladness.”

What does Black joy mean to you?

To hear more voices from EL Education school communities reflecting on Black joy, discover blog posts from the series below.