Photographer and community activist Thaddeus Miles tries to find joy in most aspects of his life, and he encourages others to do the same. He is such a proponent of joy, in fact, that through his advocacy and determination, City Councilor Julia Mejia passed a resolution declaring Saturday, Sept. 12, Black Joy Day in the city of Boston.
“With so much constantly going on — from the COVID pandemic to the pandemic of racism these past months, to the Boston Marathon and other events this weekend — I just thought, ‘Can we just take a day and focus on joy?’” said Miles, director of Community Services at MassHousing and a member of the Brigham’s Committee Advisory Committee.
The celebration is the latest development in Miles’ ongoing “BlackJoy” project, which he describes as a collection of writing, poems, interviews and photos that reflect the multidimensional experience of what he describes as Black Joy.
“For me, accepting your blackness without any obstructions, while embracing ‘BlackJoy’ in all its magnificence is not only captivating, but one of the most potent sources of power and beauty,” Miles explained in an artist’s statement on the project’s blog. “‘BlackJoy’ is my contribution to the collective narrative of the power and influence of black traditions in the world. It is a testimony of the strength and resilience of our people. Most importantly, it is a love letter to Black people.”
In its resolution to recognize Black Joy Day, the City of Boston described the event as part of a continued effort of “shifting the narrative of Bostonians away from deficit-based descriptors and affirming our resilient yet under-represented communities.”
“I am grateful to Thaddeus Miles, City Councilor Julia Mejia and the City of Boston for recognizing Sept. 12 as Black Joy Day” said Wanda McClain, MPA, vice president of Community Health and Health Equity at Brigham Health. “Black Joy Day is a day to celebrate with family, friends and loved ones and to reflect on the strengths, influences and excellence of the Black community in all of its many forms. During these difficult times, and in society where anti-Blackness is pervasive, bringing awareness to Black Joy sparks hope for our future and is vital to the health, vibrancy and well-being of our city.”
Miles has spent the past year showcasing and highlighting events around Black Joy, beginning with a kickoff event in February at the Museum of Fine Arts. He also has been traveling the country photographing Black Lives Matter marches, which he also hopes to portray positively.
“I try to see the joy within the marches and not the anger,” he said. “My focus is seeing the human part of these people.”
Miles encourages everyone to commemorate Black Joy Day by taking the day to fully embrace things that fuel the spirit and bring peace and joy — be it spending time with loved ones, enjoying a song and dance, eating good food or simply finding a moment of calm.
“We must always find times to smile and to build our resilience,” says Miles. “We can’t sustain this movement through pain or anger. That’s really the challenge I’m facing. This one day, at least, is to get people to think about joy and focus on joy.”
Learn more about the events of Black Joy Day, including where you can watch it livestreamed, here.