It’s already being touted as a cultural staple!
Kleaver Cruz is a queer Dominican-American activist and educator from the Bronx, New York. In 2015, Cruz found themselves thrust into the climate of political protest and uprisings as they grappled with a new emerging society in light of the tragic murders of Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, India Clarke, and so many others. As a community member actively working in nonprofit spaces, education, and globally building relationships with activists abroad, they were uniquely present to the pain and suffering all around. One morning, the weight of it all felt like too much, and while grieving the hostility toward Black people everywhere and their personal grief from the sudden passing of their uncle Ali, something shifted.
“That morning was overwhelming, and I felt more depressed than I had ever felt…Eventually, I had what can only be described as a spiritual experience: I felt a sudden rush of memories come over me in the middle of all the grief and other challenges I was processing from the year…Then the words “Black” and “Joy” seemed to float in front of me so clear and close that I could nearly touch them,” Cruz writes in the new book.
That’s when Cruz decided to share a photo they had taken of their mother some weeks prior to social media. In the picture, Cruz’s mother can be shown smiling widely. They posted it with an insightful caption that would subsequently launch “The Black Joy Project” initiative.
“Let’s bombard the internet with joy. That is resistance too. Trauma is real mi gente. Let’s trigger love as much as the pain as we share important topics we all need to be up on. Love is necessary with the understanding that peace is the exception, not the rule. #BlackJoy,” wrote Cruz.
The spark was lit, and over the next 30 days, Cruz embarked on a mission to post a picture of loved ones they knew expressing joy in an effort to combat the cloak of sadness that had fallen over them. In the years since, “The Black Joy Project” has sprouted legs of its own, growing exponentially as Cruz spreads their message of joy around the globe. Now Cruz is gearing up for a new book paying homage to that work and celebrating the power of Black joy. The new Black Joy Project book features eight essays and 117 full-color photos in what is being described as “a literary and visual love letter to the role of joy in Black life.”
The book features work by several acclaimed artists. It focuses on themes of Black joy as an act of resistance, choosing joy, the parallelism between Black joy and nature, the power of imagination and innovation, building community, and the healing power of Black joy. It is a profound piece of work and a necessary piece of literature in the new canon of Black art. Already receiving rave reviews ahead of its release, ESSENCE calls the book an “essential piece of cultural expression.”
“The Black Joy Project is The Black Book for a new millennium. Here is a patchwork quilt of visually stunning images, captured moments of triumph, antidotes to trauma narratives and rich, ebullient emotional and verbal spice for the soul. This is an irreplaceable volume,” said culinary and cultural historian Michael W. Twitty.
“A bath and a balm. Powerful words accompanied by vibrant images affirm a joy that is not only palpable but possible. A promise and a prayer…The Black Joy Project shows us, literally, that joy is ours for the naming,” added scholar-activist and author Dr. Yaba Blay.
Cruz spoke to Because of Them We Can about the importance of this labor of love and why they believe Black joy as resistance is a crucial tenet for our liberation.
“I don’t believe it, I know it to be true because history and the times we are in provide so much evidence of this. When we look back at any moment in history, and the current moment as well, Black joy is present; it is there. It has looked and looks so many different ways. It’s all served as batteries in our backs to keep going, especially when life has felt insurmountable,” Cruz told BOTWC.
Cruz speaks of these moments in the book, noting a difference between happiness, which they describe as a temporary feeling, and joy, which is explained as a nuanced emotion that comes from deep within.
“[Joy] is one of our most key, yet unexamined, tools for surviving the world. In every way, Black joy is restorative, regenerative, and generous. It offers the opportunity to go beyond the shallow waters of happiness… into the depths and complexity of an emotion and way of being that comes from within and connects us to ourselves as well as the communities of which we are a part,” Cruz writes.
A transformative tool, the book holds up a type of literary mirror, reflecting the omnipresence of joy as a consistent tool in our arsenal and fight for true freedom. It is Cruz’s hope that readers will use this tool and allow the book to serve as a guide to return to our most authentic selves whenever the world feels like too much.
“We get to have a space to reflect and see reflections of an aspect of our lives that deserves more attention and respect for its power. May this book feel like a pool on a hot day that you can swim in, whether you want to keep it cute in the wading section or are looking to dive a little deeper. I hope readers will see this book as an experience and contribution to this landscape and legacy of our joys, wherever and however we exist in the world. It’s a space that you are welcome to come back to whenever you need to. No questions asked. Just be,” said Cruz.
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More importantly, Cruz hopes that this book serves as a bridge within our community, a reminder that Black people of all backgrounds and identities are worthy of the same freedoms and experience the same wellspring of joy in their lives. While joy may mean a number of things for each of us, we are more alike than we are different. For Cruz, it is essential to acknowledge that truth and, with it, the joy, mainly that which is found in communities most marginalized, as a chord that binds us all.
“It’s important to name that Black TLGBQIA+ joy is one of the life forces of our communities. We deserve protection and fighting for too. As Morrison once said of racism being a distraction, so too is transphobia, homophobia, and the many branches of white supremacy that exist to distance ourselves from ourselves and each other. Black liberation means freedom for all of us, not some of us,” explained Cruz.
Click here to purchase your copy of The Black Joy Project, published by Mariner Books.
Cover photo: New Book From Activist & Educator Kleaver Cruz Celebrates the Power of Black Joy/Photos Courtesy of Kleaver Cruz/The Black Joy Project/Mariner Books