“To be Black is something so special.”Dr. Bettina Love
Dear Black Joy, Thank you. You have nurtured and sustained me my entire life. Before I could even name you, you showed up in Grandma’s slender hands as she cut articles about my first love, Prince, out of the newspaper for me to keep. When Bobbie Lee’s hands clapped in church on Sunday mornings, you showed up in fresh-pressed suits straight from Uncle Willie’s dry cleaners, and the tightly braided, fresh out of a bonnet hair of little girls like me who could not sit still. You were in the harmonies that ushered the Holy Ghost into Hurst Chapel A.M.E. Church and sent church mothers running up and down the aisles to convince us all to lift our hands in praise and join them in singing that we don’t feel no ways tired. I’ve come too far from where I started from. When we were all spent, you awaited me in the church kitchen in heaping mounds of macaroni and cheese, crispy fried chicken, honey-baked ham, collard greens, green beans, peach cobbler -- food that seemed to have no beginning or end. (Everybody knew this alpha and omega was Mrs. Moore, though. We don’t eat just anybody’s cooking. We don’t know where they’ve been.) Grandma’s been gone almost four years, but you, Black Joy, survived in the old Ebony and Jet magazines she proudly displayed in her Florida room, an orange and green sanctuary reminding us to give thanks for our family’s legacy at the university on Tallahassee’s highest hill.
You outlived the one person I thought could look death in the face and tell it to get to stepping. You defy all odds! That a people could rail against the horrors of chattel slavery for centuries, spend every moment since emancipation fighting for our humanity and have you remain, unspeakable, in our hearts is nothing short of a miraculous gift from the ancestors. L I B A T I O N S When I left your sacred arms and refused to give you the time of day, because I was out there contorting myself and my dreams to please the white gaze, you paid my infidelities no mind and passionately pursued me anyway. You crushed yourself up -- like momma used to crush aspirin into orange juice because I didn’t know what was good for me -- so I would still take you. I’m so sorry. They taught me all about you, Black Joy, but nobody told me white supremacy is insidious, that it comes, like a thief in the night, to kill and destroy. I nearly died trying to appease it. But you never stopped calling me in (not out) and I found my way back to you -- the only venue that could host all of me, just as I am -- and relearned how to live in community with people who can wholly reflect who I am, people willing to die for my liberation. Thank you for escorting me through doors of return: the words of the ancestors -- Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place -- the poetry written on my heart -- I rise I rise I rise -- the song of my soul-- Shadowed beneath Thy hand May we forever stand True to our God True to our native land -- and those actual doors.
Thank you for saving my place at the table. Thank you for helping me return -- to the coil of my hair, the curves of my body, the sass of my mouth, the music that seizes control of my hips and emotions, the literature that feeds my soul, the comedy that conjures full-bodied laughter, and the peace in my heart. Thank you for giving me back vibrant head wraps, hoop earrings that touch my shoulders, brightly-colored lips, sister friends, and men who don’t need the manual about how to love a Black woman.
Thank you for making me love you so fiercely, so palpably, that a Mexican little girl reads "Black Teachers Matter" on my t-shirt, rolls her neck, and says, "That's true!" in solidarity. Thank you for drawing me so close to you that my rendering of The Undefeated touches a young Mexican boy brimming with machismo so deeply that he ducks behind a bookcase to hide his tears. Thank you for liberating me. Thank you for giving me life. Thank you for reminding me of how blessed I am to have overcome it all and have the luck to be Black and proud on this Saturday morning with my vow to you tattooed on my mahogany skin: Sankofa. Love, Aeriale