What is ‘Black joy’? Sonoma State students, staff gather at second annual event to find out

“For me, Black joy is being seen as part of a community, as opposed to somebody that’s always excluded,” said a student just as Beyoncé’s song “Before I Let Go” played.|

What does “Black Joy” mean?

That is what students and staff at Sonoma State University’s second annual Black Joy event Thursday gathered in Seawolf Plaza to discuss, along with eating, singing, dancing and celebrating.

The event falls in the middle of Black History Month, which kicked off Feb. 1 with a small yet packed gathering in the student union with the theme: “For Us By Us.”

The Black Joy celebration mirrored that theme, with a powerful recital of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — often referred to as “The Black National Anthem” — by Erica Ambrin, a Black songwriter artist from Sebastopol, a painting reveal by illustrator Keviette Minor and a poem reading by Kebrina Boyd.

Boyd, a Black Faculty and Staff Association member, engaged the crowd in song-like reading that asked the question: “What is Black Joy?”

She spoke to resilience of the Black community amid historic and present-day oppression, and the power of being able to come together in joy, religion and culture. The 10-minute performance received a standing ovation by the crowd of about 100 people.

The gathering, organized by the HUB Cultural Center, also featured speeches by Sonoma State President Mike Lee and Rohnert Park Mayor Susan Adams, who issued a city proclamation for Black History Month.

Lee stressed the importance that Black students, who attend a predominantly white university, feel included and also are acknowledged for all they bring to the university.

According to Sonoma State data, 2.6% of the student population were Black/African American in fall 2023.

Mayor Adams said typically the city reads the proclamation at a City Council meeting; this time, however, she wanted to do it at the campus “to meet the students and remind them they’re appreciated.”

“It’s 2024, and you’d think we’d be so much farther along here,” Adams said in an interview. “But I also think it's very important to remember the efforts of those who have come before us, to honor their work, and make sure we're all looking to move in the same direction for equality.”

Students who attended said they felt the mission of the event working as they looked around and witnessed a celebration of their culture, an acknowledgment of historic wrongdoing and inclusion into the broader campus community.

Tia Booker, 21, a Black Student Union leader who helped organize the event, said this year it was important for her to make the event more visible for Sonoma State students, especially so Black students can see the level of support available.

Nigeria Cole, 36, a mentor for the Umoja Queens organization, which aims to connect Black female students with Black female staff at SSU, said it was important for students to see and experience Black joy.

“For me, Black joy is being seen as part of a community, as opposed to somebody that’s always excluded,” she said, just as Beyoncé’s song “Before I Let Go” played for the crowd.

“So, Black joy is also being able to go do the electric slide in the middle of an interview, so come on, it’s Beyoncé!” she said, grabbing a group of friends, students and colleagues to dance together.

They danced in unison, smiling ear to ear.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Keviette Minor’s alma mater. Minor graduated from the University of Southern California’s Roski School of Art and Design.

You can reach Staff Writer Alana Minkler at 707-526-8531 or alana.minkler@pressdemocrat.com. On X (Twitter,) @alana_minkler.

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