Black Joy Day returns to Boston Sunday, thanks to photographer and activist Thaddeus Miles.
The holiday is a chance for the Black community to live “radiantly and unapologetically in your skin — being fierce and in true celebration of yourself no matter what your personal or collective circumstance,” according to a City of Boston resolution formalizing the celebration. City Councilor Julia Mejia first recognized Black Joy Day in 2020.
Sunday will be marked by multiple events, organized in collaboration with Trillfit, the Boston’s Children’s Museum, and the Institute of Contemporary Art. They include vocal and spoken word performances at the ICA’s Putnam Investments Plaza with Miranda Rae, Dzidzor, Cliff Notez, and Niu Raza.
Miles, the director of community services at MassHousing, spoke to the Globe about the inspiration behind the BlackJoy Project he founded, its goals, and the schedule for the weekend.
Q. Tell me about the BlackJoy Project and what inspired it.
A. In 2019, I took a class from YW Boston. It’s an executive course that examines issues around the city. Part of what I was looking at were issues surrounding race, justice, and housing. Afterward, you have to spend one year after the class diving into a project that you choose. I chose a project around Black Joy, showcasing a different narrative, because our stories are much more than trauma.
It kicked off in February 2020 at the [Museum of Fine Arts], and then COVID-19 hit. We did the book release [of “To My Kin,” an anthology of youth stories]. We held some writing contests. And when I saw how COVID was affecting the Black community, I felt we needed a day of joy. So I asked City Councilor Julia Mejia to sponsor Black Joy Day last year. We opened the morning with tai chi and qigong in Franklin Park, and then virtual conversations about Suicide Prevention Month.
This year comes around, we need the same thing — a second annual Black Joy Day. During this turbulent time, we still have violence in the community. We still have disparities. We still have a fight around social justice, systemic racism. But Black Joy is part of our resilience. It gives us power. It gives us a voice. It gives us an opportunity to grow.
Q. What’s on the schedule for Sunday?
A. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. [the American City Coalition is hosting] kayaking. Then a fitness class with Trillfit, different lessons around the [Schooner] Roseway ship, pop-up poetry. People can bring their kids to the Boston Children’s Museum [for free]. The concert at the Institute of Contemporary Art is the culminating event where we’re closing out Black Joy Day.
Q. And the concert is in the Seaport?
A. Yes. Three years ago, there were only a few mortgages held by Black people in that neighborhood. And I’m a big believer that we belong everywhere — and we should feel comfortable everywhere. So for the past six months, I’ve looked into doing events outside of Roxbury, outside of Dorchester. The ICA helped pull that together with enthusiasm.
Q. What do you hope attendees walk away with?
A. Black Joy Day is for the Black diaspora and its allies, including Afro-Latinx and LGBTIA+ people. On Sunday, we can move past particular challenges that expand within the community. There’s still food [insecurity], issues of economic justice, joblessness, mental health. But this is a day to renew our spirit for the fight, because the fight continues. I want young people to know that they’re competing against the world. And they have access to the world.
For me, I also want to spend the day relaxing and reflecting so that I can enjoy the moment and not allow the other negative entities to influence how I navigate space.
Q. Is there a future for the Black Joy Project?
A. It is growing. Think about [Acting] Mayor Kim Janey’s initiative on joy — she has a joy agenda. The Boston Globe is working on a whole series about Black Joy. The next step is to tap into the collaborative DNA of Boston for more events, more partnerships. I see every museum doing something for the project.
Register for the morning kayaking experience, Trillfit fitness class, free admission to Boston Children’s Museum, and ICA Water Taxi at eventbrite.com. Reserve tickets for the ICA concert of music and spoken word featuring Miranda Rae, Dzidzor, Cliff Notez, and Niu Raza at www.icaboston.org/events.
Interview was edited for length and clarity.