Black Joy

This post was authored by Chris Omni, MPH.

March 17, 2023

10 days post full moon.

14 days until the 7th anniversary of my Mama’s transition from a 26-year battle with cancer. 

March is a month of magic, memories, and manifestations.

As I sit in the lobby of this Seattle conference center, I am feeling a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude for the community of people, living and transitioned, who have contributed to my current success and future trajectory as a Black Joy scholar, artist, and activist. As part of this PEN & Inc. process update blog, I choose to exercise my voice to craft an academic love letter to four young, brilliant Black women who dedicated their time and talent to help bring another vision into reality – the creation of a website dedicated to Black Joy!


My Mama lived with four different bouts of cancer over a 26-year period. When I share that information with people, it typically generates one of three responses, 1) I’m sorry for your loss, 2) I’m so sorry to hear that, or 3) My condolences. Now, don’t get me wrong, witnessing the death of my Mama was difficult. It was truly the most painful yet poetic experience, outside of childbirth, that I have ever experienced. But, it was not the whole of my Mama’s story. I do understand why people are inclined to respond in that way, but let me be the first to say, “Nuthin’ about my Mama warranted a ‘sorry.’” 

My Mama lived with joy. My Mama died with joy. 

Joy journeyed with her in every phase of life.  

The truth about joy, specifically Black Joy, is that it is the birth AND death right of Black people. It is a truth that tends to not make headline news. It is a counterstory to the typical deficit narrative that tends to frame Black experiences in mainstream media. 

So, what is Black Joy? 

To provide context for this process blog, I proudly present you with the Black Joy poetic pillars spoken during my 2021 TEDx FSU Talk:

Black Joy is a Statement 

Black Joy is a Stride

Black Joy is Permission 

Black Joy is Pride

Black Joy is a form of Resistance 

Black Joy is a form of Rest

Black Joy is anything and everything you need it to be because Black Joy is truly the best. 

Poetics aside, Black Joy is a form of life that requires self-determination, creativity, and collective work and responsibility. When braided together, these threads are summed up by a combination of three Swahili words found within the seven principles associated with Kwanzaa – an African American cultural celebration honoring heritage, family, and community. The words, in order of Black Joy requirements, include Kujichagulia (Koo-jee-cha-goo-LEE-ah), Kuumba (Koo-oom-bah), and Ujima (Ooo-jee-mah). Through the cultural construction permissions afforded me by Cynthia Dillard’s endarkened feminist epistemology, I creatively braided these three words to form an onto-epistemological framework entitled Kujima Theory of Collective-self Motivation. This theory informed the development of our digital humanities project – along with the cohort of research mentees to make this vision a reality – Kujima Corps Class of 2022/2023. 

Defining Black Joy  in April 2023 was just the beginning. From there, it was necessary to create a team of researchers to help build a Black Joy website and contribute both academic and arts-based content. The research team consisted of four research mentees from FSU’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program – Ashley Powell, Michelle Gunn, Teya Moseley, and Simone Eloi. After assembling a dynamic team of young, brilliant minds, we set to work and 

  1. Settled on a WordPress layout,
  2. Identified a color palette that communicated Black Joy,
  3. Determined the necessary content to position our site as both academic and artistic,
  4. Conducted literature reviews to support the academic side of the site,
  5. Curated Black Joy playlists to enhance the artistic side of the site, 
  6. Created and disseminated a Black Joy survey that was easily accessible through our website, and
  7. Developed a YouTube channel bearing the same name, Blacktivate Joy, to house street interviews that featured personal stories of Black Joy.

Black (Love) Letters

As a near 50-year-old Black woman researching Black Joy with a team of 19 and 20-year-old Black research mentees, my heart is so full of love and appreciation. I know I do not move in this world in isolation. I know that my success is a representation of Ujima in action – a collective work and responsibility. I also know that it is necessary to give “flowers” to the people in your life while they can still see, smell, and enjoy them. To support the fourth pillar of Black Joy, Black Joy is Pride, I now switch this process blog into a public declaration of appreciation to the four research mentees who helped make this possible. 

Dear Ashley,

I appreciate the welcoming energy you contribute to our team. I see and value your strength as a project coordinator. It was indeed a joy to witness you co-facilitate a meeting in my absence; your leadership skills shined through. I loved how you created space for everyone to be heard and recognized. Ashley, I am grateful to you for being the first person to say “yes” to this project. May the Ancestors continue to move in your life and open the doors that were meant for you.  I am proud of YOU!

Dear Michelle,

I appreciate the compassionate energy you contribute to our team. I had the honor of witnessing you take the lead on the creation of our Black Joy survey. I loved how you received and incorporated everyone’s suggestions and actively sought clarification on the matters that were unclear. Michelle, I will never forget the day you showed up physically to our Zoom meeting even though you were not feeling well. That was dedication. May the Ancestors continue to move in your life and open the doors that were meant for you.  I am proud of YOU!

Dear Teya,

I appreciate the calm energy you contribute to our team. I had the privilege of witnessing your silent strength and dedication as you showed up for every meeting and did the work. I value this form of leadership. Teya, I will always be grateful for the stories you shared with us regarding your Grandma. This spiritual connection was unexpected and deeply appreciated. May the Ancestors continue to move in your life and open the doors that were meant for you. I am proud of YOU!

Dear Simone,

I appreciate the high energy you contribute to our team. From always raising your hand to offer an answer to raising your hand to disagree with one of my statements, your presence was always felt. Simone, I deeply admire when someone knows how to respectfully agree to disagree.  Well done! Additionally, I will always be grateful for how you honored Yara’s identity. Your presence made her feel seen, I thank you! May the Ancestors continue to move in your life and open the doors that were meant for you. I am proud of YOU!

What’s Next for Blacktivate Joy?

I had the pleasure of moderating the Omnipresence of Black Joy panel discussion during the 2022 International Association of Autoethnography and Narrative Inquiry Symposium. The panel featured Ashley, Michelle, Teya, and Simone, and it provided an international platform to discuss Black Joy. There were several amazing moments that occurred during the experience, however, there was one moment, in particular, that influenced the 2023/2024 direction of the website. That moment occurred while listening to the “permissions” each panelist offered to other Black undergraduate students. It was pure inspiration. Visit the 21:54 marker, to see for yourself!

To align with the work of Pillar #3, Black Joy is Permission, the Blacktivate Joy website and YouTube channel will house special stories that feature lessons learned while attending a predominantly White institution as a Black student. It is my vision to ultimately combine these stories to create an anthology.

BONUS GOOD NEWS!!Thanks to a Provost Postdoctoral Fellowship award, I will remain at FSU for another two years conducting additional Black Joy research studies. Please email me at if you want to support future initiatives.