What does black joy look like? Moments from ‘Black History Untold’ event [photos + video]

“My joy is waiting 40 years to fulfill a dream, because a dream delayed is not a dream deferred,” Barbara Ann Fields said. Almost 70, Fields says she found her ‘black joy’ embarking on a career as an artist.

“Back in the day, I was told you go to school and earn a degree to help support your family,” Fields said. “ And now I have supported and supported and supported. And the grandchild has graduated college. Now it’s my time.”

She was one of more than 100 guests at a Black History Month event hosted on Tuesday night by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, Philly.com and WHYY. The event served as a finale to a month-long storytelling series published on Philly.com and NewsWorks.org called “Black History Untold: Joy.”

Guests were invited to WHYY studios to convene and celebrate the happiness the have found as African Americans in often trying times. The event featured live entertainment and a panel discussion, including some of the series’ storytellers. Some guests, like Fields, participated in video testimonials expressing their personal moments of ‘black joy.’ Following an introduction to the event by Sandra M. Clark, WHYY’s vice president of news and civic dialogue, the affair kicked off with singer Lee Mo performing a slowed-down rendition of Frankie Beverly and Maze’s popular hit “Before I Let Go,” during which many in the audience swayed in their seats.

Philadelphia Inquirer writer Sofiya Ballin, who created the “Black History Untold: Joy” project, co-moderated a panel discussion with Dr. James Peterson, director of Africana Studies and associate professor of English at Lehigh University and the host of WHYY podcast “The Remix.”

Ballin was inspired to focus on this year’s Black History Untold project on joy after a trip last year to Trinidad, where she experienced the exuberant celebrations of the annual Carnival, held the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday in Trinidad.  

Panelists included community activist Feminista Jones, founder of the Philly Youth Poetry Movement Greg Corbin, broadcast pioneer and icon Sonny Hill, and Aja Graydon and Fatin Dantzler, otherwise known as American neo-soul duo Kindred the Family Soul. Most of the panelists spoke about what “black joy” means to them, citing motherhood, the power of spirituality and community giving, as well as the inaugurations of Barack Obama in 2009 and 2013.

As the discussion came to a close, guests continued to share among themselves moments that brought them joy over the past year.

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