Schools and media outlets, particularly during Black History Month, often focus on past struggles when talking about communities of color. At a recent community meeting, our seventh graders wanted to take a more inspiring approach and celebrate the joyful moments that uplift the African-American community. “Black Joy” – the theme of the meeting – was the brainchild of 12-year-old Madisyn Cunningham.
Harlem Academy’s weekly community meetings are inspired by the Quaker tradition and provide a time for students to gather, give thanks, and reflect. A thought-provoking message, typically delivered by a teacher, is an integral part of each meeting.
Showing the leadership, boldness, creativity, and care for community described in our school creed, Madisyn recognized our community meeting as a perfect opportunity to offer a new perspective on the stories we tell. “As a country, we often focus on the bad parts of black history, like slavery,” she said. “I wanted to show that there is also joy.”
She took her idea to English teacher Kia Turner. “She showed real initiative, and I wanted to encourage that,” said Ms. Turner. "Madisyn has always had strength of conviction. In approaching me she showed that she was willing to turn her conviction into reality.”
After getting the go-ahead, Madisyn asked her fellow classmates, Sen’ari Minnis and Nyah Williams, for help leading the meeting. They carefully planned their message, as well as how they would frame a reflective discussion with their fellow students.
The friends stood before their classmates and talked about the small, everyday ways happiness is woven into the fabric of the African-American community. They talked about ending every family barbeque with the electric slide and watching Lupita Nyong’o and Chadwick Boseman’s powerful and inspiring performances in Black Panther.
During the course of the meeting, the three also encouraged the rest of their class to reflect on what black joy means to them. One theme came up again and again – family. “A lot of the students talked about home-cooked meals and watching TV as a family,” said Nyah. “It’s the little things that matter most.”
As the meeting came to an end, Madisyn, Sen’ari and Nyah all felt that they had accomplished their goal. “I was happy to help spread awareness about something positive,” said Sen’ari. Madisyn couldn’t agree more, “After the meeting, I felt really good. It seemed like a lot of people were waiting for someone to talk about this.”