28 Days of Black Joy: Experiencing Black Joy Together

Deborah León looking at art.
Deborah León looking at art.
Photo: Felice León

Does Black joy exist if there’s no one to share it with?

I imagine that one could make the argument that Black joy could be an individual act, pointing to the joy that one feels within self, and that’s real. But through my life experiences—and recent conversations with scholar André Brock and founder of The Black Joy Project, Kleaver Cruz—I have found that we are interconnected people who experience Black joy communally.

The joy that we experience is through others. This is evidenced by laughs that we share together, the dances that we do together, the sighs of relief that we breathe together.

I recently had a particularly special moment of Black joy with my mother.

Queen Dee, as we call her, is a creator at heart. Despite her penchant for painting, she never pursued a career in the arts because of the fear that it wouldn’t pay the bills. That’s also real. My mother chose a more flat, but stable, career finance. So this meant that art became more of a pastime, a hobby. Growing up, I would accompany her to ceramics classes and watercolor painting. I looked on attentively, and while I consider myself creative and have a strong sense of style, the art thing never clicked for me. But art is still ever-present for mom.

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Fast forward to the winter of 2020, and a friend invited me and my mom to audition for an immersive media art installation project set to premiere at SXSW, “The Secret Garden.” We would be one of several voice artists for the show and went through the process of auditioning, etc., and just like that, Queen Dee landed her first professional voiceover gig. I didn’t make the cut, but alas, this moment of Black joy ain’t about me.

Together we went through the process of recording and re-recording. I became her tough-as-nails producer. I offered notes and points of feedback, pushing her to do take after take until she got it right. And she loved it. Witnessing my mother record the voiceover, was like watching an artist work with her canvas—refining each stroke, she employed laser focus in attempting to nail the intonation. Within her, I saw a renewed sense of artistic awakening. It was beautiful to see before me.

Months later, “The Secret Garden” became a selection at Sundance 2021 and there was no question that we’d see the installation. We walked in, masked up—because COVID—to a room filled with luminous figures of Black women; they were projections on the wall. The women wore brilliant colors, purples and reds and they were knee-deep in plants and flowers. Within minutes of walking in, we heard my mother’s segment, “That’s my voice! That’s my voice!” she yelled. “I’m a star,” she said facetiously.

But the thing is, she is a star.

As a mother of three, she had to deprioritize her dreams for us. As mothers so often dedicate their lives to their children, it leaves little space for themselves. That, to me, makes her a star. While my mother is happy with the life that she chose, I’m sure that she would invite room for professional creative endeavors like this.

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“I sound good, don’t I?” Mom said. “I might take this up in my free time.”

We laughed together. I walked out of the gallery with the star of the show.

Afro-Cuban woman that was born and branded in New York. When León isn't actually creating cool videos, she's thinking of cool videos that she can create.

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DISCUSSION

feministonfire
FeministOnFire

That feeling of pride and pleasure we get from seeing our parents happily achieve has to be on par with parents watching their little ones do the same! Good memories to hold on to!