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The Questions featuring Thaddeus Miles

The beautiful resistance of the Black Joy Day founder

Thaddeus Miles, founder of Black Joy Day in Boston.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Thaddeus Miles believes in the power of Black Joy.

It started with a Black Joy Project, celebrating the stories, poems, and photography celebrating our happiness. Last year, he asked City Councilor at large Julia Mejia to sponsor Black Joy Day, an annual holiday to bring the community together in the name of a good time. Poetry, fitness, music.

It’s all about cultivating a culture of wellness and good feelings through the pain as we fight injustice. Having that respite, that celebration, that time to gather in love, is necessary.

When Miles visited South Africa a few years ago he learned the word “Sawabona.” Translated, it means “I see you.” It’s something Black Americans say, too: I see you.

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To be seen is to be affirmed. And this is why Black Joy Day means so much to Boston.

My life is a beautiful resistance because:

I make a conscious choice to use my platforms and privilege to hold and make space for my people. I am willing to challenge narratives that seem liberal and progressive on the surface but are deeply rooted in systemic oppression. I identify and embrace my photography as a passion to expand the gaze to broaden perspectives. To dismantle the limiting beliefs that shape our worldviews, change agents have to be willing to go out and fetch information that can seed new thoughts and ideas. I use my photography to help myself and others go beyond what we are taught in order to reconstruct communities and societies that see, hear, and value all those around us.

Why is portraiture an important tool in how we tell Black stories?

Portraiture is another form of mapping existence. The acknowledgement of one’s existence is a critical step towards equity. You can’t heal what is not revealed. Erasure is one of the most powerful tools of oppression. There is a reason that totalitarian regimes seek to destroy dissonant voices first. A picture is more than just a thousand words, it has the potential to change a thousand minds. It can call to consciousness a shared humanity. In a system that literally regulated the Black body to three-fifths human for political gain for centuries, every image rebuilds and restores the whole of Black humanity.

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Moreover, Black portraiture illuminates the fullness of the Black narrative throughout the African Diasporic experience. For years many have told the story of us through the lens of trauma, pain, and pity. They stir the already vivid negative narrative imagination of us for people throughout the world, much of that being told from a point of pity mistaken as compassion. It is a daunting task to see and believe in the power of those who one pities. To pity someone is a way to regulate them to a subjugated space. I believe it’s important to tell the nuanced story of us by us from a place of personal power, respect, and dignity. From this vantage point we claim our space and strengthen the perspective for our youth to see and understand the history of their people.

What does Black Joy mean to you?

“BlackJoy” is my camera in hand accepting my Blackness without any obstructions. BlackJoy is embracing my inherited magnificence from the continent of Africa, one of the most potent sources of power and beauty on this earth. When I raise my melanin-rich fist of power high in the air, BlackJoy is represented by my thumb. It holds down and strengthens my fingers of imagination, entrepreneurship, courage, and excellence! BlackJoy is remembering that I am whole and complete without anyone’s permission but through God’s grace and mercy. It is a soul-drenched knowing that I was created for a purpose and have the agency to manifest that purpose every single day I live on this earth.

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Being Black in Boston is:

Much easier since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down. Since I’m only in Downtown Boston a few days per week now, I haven’t been mistaken as the valet and asked to park someone’s car, nor have I had to deal with the “nervous white glance” or represent the entire Black race in meetings as much. The time away has provided much-needed time to breathe, center, and release the accumulation of microaggressions that was weighing down my spirit.

As a 6-foot 4-inch, 290-pound black man in a city as small as Boston, it is always a task to be authentically me. Boston operates as a highly charged, siloed space. Once typecasted and labeled, it is challenging to be truly seen, let alone understood, as a Black person in the city. I’m always circling the wheels of privilege and power and fighting through the storm of high and low expectations of the white community on one side and trying to find common ground and collective voice with those who look like me on the other.

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The blended spaces in the city are limited and often fleeting. With the heightened expectations, I strive to walk through these challenging constructs with faith, mercy, and grace with few safe sheltered rest stops. Culturally affirming spots to get my old-school dance and eat on after midnight are few and far between. Yet, there is something about up-and-coming Black Boston that is intriguing and offers me hope, and I am called to be a part of that change to build those rest stops for the ones coming behind me.


Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com and on Twitter @sincerelyjenee and on Instagram @abeautifulresistance.