Storytelling Is My Way Of Showing That Black Joy, And Excellence, Are Limitless
I've always loved a good story. Even when I was 3 (and before I could actually read), I remember sitting with my mom on the New York City subway, making up my own storylines to Archie comics, flailing my little arms to express the particularly exciting parts. Then, fast-forward to when I was finally reading age: I never asked my parents for much spending money... until Scholastic flyers arrived at school, at which point I'd ask if I could celebrate a good report card with new books to add to my bookshelf. And speaking of bookshelves, I'll always believe that my nerdy excitement over books and Bustle's book collection — which I was so excited by when I first visited the offices — is what helped land me the opportunity to work with our books editor as executive editor. (Case in point: Most of the books that we cover here at Bustle end up in my Amazon cart.)
But it's not just books that capture my heart — it's stories told person to person, like the oral histories that Black families share and pass down through generations often while sharing a good meal. When I was young, I was not only a shy child, but an only child, and I spent a lot of time listening to my families' stories while camped out under the dinner table with a notebook or my Talkboy (just like Kevin McCallister's in Home Alone 2). The elders in my family always had the best stories: I'd hear about 1940s Harlem, where Billie Holiday's smokey voice was a jazz bar staple and Langston Hughes was a mentor to students. I learned that my granduncle was a leader of a teen gang, who made it his mission to protect the younger kids in the neighborhood so they could get to school safely without any trouble. And then there was the story I used to ask to hear over and over again, about how my bad boy granduncle won the heart of my grandaunt, who was so beautiful and kind that she was known as Snow White of Lenox Ave., thanks to her jet black hair and warm smile.
The stories of my family history were always revered, as was the vast collection of records in our basement. My mother and uncle were DJs, and I was always taught that my history — from the Miles Davis and calypso records of my grandparents, to the Prince and Luther Vandross albums of my mom, all the way down to the hip-hop vinyls my cousin collected— can always be found in the music. This is why family narratives and music are so tangibly linked in my memory, like so many who've had their cultures passed down and preserved in the same manner. A song like Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" instantly reminds me of the civil rights activism that came before my generation, while Maze & Frankie Beverly's "Before I Let Go" is the cookout song that brings me back to being 9 years old, running in the backyard with my cousins.
As a journalist, my goal has always been to tell incredible stories, especially the ones that often go untold. Whether dismantling gender norms, putting a spotlight on marginalized communities, or even just introducing you to your next marathon-watch obsession, storytelling gives me purpose. But these days, given the current political climate and overt bigotry that are unfortunately played out in headlines every day, it seems like I — and other writers of color — are also constantly having to include in our coverage the alarming and hurtful realities that affect marginalized communities in 2019.
It can feel like we're constantly writing explainers and think pieces on why our humanity matters. Those simple fundamentals we thought everyone grasped in pre-school: Be kind to one another, and don't judge each other by the color of your skin. We're in constant "go" mode it seems, when young children are gunned down by police, when Black women share their horrific accounts of sexual assault, when a beloved actor is brutally attacked, because he was simply living in his truth. And it's difficult, triggering, and becomes even more distressing when some people outside of the culture believe that being Black is a detriment, something that solely involves hardship. That cycle takes us away from the rich traditions and legacies we grew up with.
We'll never stop highlighting the hate crimes and bigotry that need to be called out. But when we are bombarded with brutality and nagging microaggressions, it can be hard to remember the breadth, the unstoppable courage, and the joy it means to be Black and not only existing, but excelling. That's why Bustle's Black & Thriving package is so important — it was conceived as a moment for Black writers and editors to express the joy, heartwarming nostalgia, and incredible honor that it is to be Black in America. Being Black does come with great responsibility, just like the Spider-Man adage, and we accept that proudly. But we owe it to the dynamic individuals who have not only fought for the rights we have, but blessed us with rich histories and traditions that we can keep alive and build upon.
There's an energy around Black & Thriving in Bustle's offices that I wish I could bottle up, and it's my hope that all of our readers will feel the same after reading the pieces included in the package, some of which launch today, and many of which will continue to roll out throughout this month and beyond. Today, for instance, you can check out a piece that compiles reflections from Black women about what joy means to them, and an essay from presidential hopeful Sen. Kamala Harris.
Although I'm no longer the little girl listening to stories under my family's dining room table — I'm much taller and, I'd like to think, wiser now — I was able to share the concept of Black & Thriving with my grandaunt during a recent visit. (For those curious, Harlem's gorgeously dark-skinned Snow White is now a 91-year-old Bronx dweller.) She shared an eloquent message I hope to leave with Black writers who read this: "Keep going because we need you. Remember my stories but tell your story, blessed children. You are well prepared for it."