Black people have a superpower, a healing agent that weaves between a sedative and a stimulant, recalibrating resilience and reviving resistance. It’s the spirit of Black Joy.
In August 2015, that Black Joy superpower activated a league of Black Durham millennials— Derrick Beasley, Ja’Nell Henry, Moses Ochola, Joshua Gunn, and Crystal Taylor—to gift Durham’s Black community with the realization of a historic grassroots cookout: Black August in the Park (BAP), also known these days as “Black August.” This celebration recognizes the significance of the month of August and its historical relevance to Black resistance.
One member of the league, Crystal Taylor, saw her powers intensify as she evolved from an ambitious cultural curator to a seemingly supernatural single mother. Like the Black matriarchs present throughout her upbringing, Taylor balances the sorrow of raising a Black child in an anti-Black society with the pride of existing within an impenetrably hopeful community of Black people. She believes that pain is not a barrier for joy; it’s an invitation for joy’s curation. She subscribes to the belief that weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.
Taylor’s motherhood-inspired, maternal approach to collectivism is critical to Black August’s continued impact. As the only mother and single parent of the group, Taylor is the quintessential Black Mama of Black August.
Throughout the diaspora, the 2010s represented a reprise of grim Jim Crow–esque imagery—the audio of Black children pleading in anguish for help; videos of Black people begging for mercy moments before death; depictions of lifeless victims who were once lively fathers, daughters, and cousins. The year 2015 was the culmination in a series of years of senseless killings of Black people. Speaking the names of the slain, erecting altars, holding space, mass protesting, vigils, civil disobedience, prayers, marches, coalitions, lobbies—that year, we fought back with everything we had. And all of that fighting takes a toll on the body and spirit. All of that trauma takes a toll on stability. All of that grief takes a toll on hope.
But Black people have healers to ease some of that toll. They are the curators of Black Joy.
Curators of Black Joy have a calling to reincarnate the passionate grief of an oppressed community into a celebration of the resilience of a triumphant people. For Taylor, co-leading participation in Durham’s Black August in the Park, the Beats and Bars Music Festival, and the Black Farmers Market demonstrates her dedication to delivering the healing and fun that commences Black Joy.
In 2012, Taylor founded the Underground Collective hip-hop platform, a space for artists and creatives to build community and circulate their projects. Three years later, together with the leadership of her colleagues Beasley, Ochola, Gunn, and Henry, Taylor co-initiated Durham’s Black August in the Park. The group would go on to create Durham’s Black Market the same year, which would evolve into the Black Farmers Market. Following the momentum, Taylor also birthed the Beats and Bars festival, collaborating in 2016 alongside artists and content creators John Laww, Kyesha Jennings, Toon, and Donald Salmon Jr., to host the inaugural festival lineup at Durham’s Pinhook.
In June 2018, Taylor gave birth to her son Mansa. This same year, Taylor pulled me in to co-emcee and co-facilitate the Black August Bondference, the kickoff event for Durham’s 2018 Black August in the Park. Just two months after giving birth, Taylor was juggling microphones and baby bottles for Bondference, managing the run of show in between the unpredictable demands of caring for an eight-week-old infant.
I watched reminiscently, remembering my own days of multitasking through early parenting, as Taylor masterfully intersected her dedication to brotherhood with her commitment to motherhood.
Since 2015’s inaugural Black August in the Park, Durham has witnessed what’s possible when a village protects and nurtures a child like Mansa so a mama like Taylor can lay building blocks.
Part picnic, cookout, block party, and family reunion, Black August in the Park epitomizes what is possible when the Black Joy superpower is channeled with intentional love. Like a multitude of mothers in the movement, Taylor’s success is as contingent on her community’s dedication as it is on hers. I’ve watched as she passed Mansa to the next willing arms so she could address a room full of planning meeting attendees. I’ve observed Taylor’s mother, Dr. Carolyn Rose Taylor, relieve her and soothe an unsettled Mansa, granting Taylor a small window of freedom to contribute to a program in progress. I’ve laughed along with others who extended compassion and solidarity when Mansa would crawl on top of her and close the laptop or end the call. These gestures of love and patience help remove the barriers that restrict mothers from realizing their passion without neglecting their families.
While Taylor holds a résumé of successful community productions, she herself is also a successful product of community. These communities include her alma mater, NC Central University, where she’s recognized in the 2023 cohort of 40 alumni under 40. These communities include the Black Farmers Market and its members, who show gratitude for the opportunity to sell their goods. These communities include single mothers and Black women who give food, childcare, and relief to other working mothers.
It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to sustain an adult. The continuity and preservation of the village is tantamount to curating that healing agent of Black Joy. That preservation is what kept Taylor dedicated to Black August, through the uncertainty of a pandemic and the transitions of some of its founding members.
Since 2021, Taylor has continued her ministry through her own nonprofit, Get Happy. It’s a fitting name for an organization pioneered by a prominent activator of Black Joy.
This year, you can catch Mansa and his village celebrating in the park at the joyful occasion cofounded by his mama, the Black Mama of Black August, the phenomenal Crystal Taylor.
Desmera Gatewood is a neurodivergent, Black, non-binary writer and organization development practitioner. They get joy from parenting, sudoku competitions, and
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