With heads wrapped in African print cloth, young dancers boogie down Broadway. Photo by Yvette Maria Aldama.
What if you hold a parade and nobody comes?
That was Black Joy Parade founder Elisha Greenwell’s biggest fear on Feb. 25 as 50 contingents comprised of 1,500 people gathered by the Malonga Center at 14th and Alice in downtown Oakland.
With a team of 30 who worked for over six months to get sponsors, publicity, entertainment and black vendors of food, crafts, art and information, the only thing out of their hands was the crowd.
The Black Cowboys in front, the revelers rode, walked, strutted, danced and ‘floated’ up 14th street, while Greenwell held her breath as the parade turned the corner onto Broadway…
And then she heard the cheers and whoops of the welcoming crowd and let out a breath of relief.
A week after ‘The Black Panther’ movie was released, Oakland had a black blockbuster of its own when 14,000 people, mostly Black, came in all of their glory and stayed for hours at the parade end at 20th Street. From the elderly to little girls, the ladies came out with gleaming nails and hair locked up, weaved down, wrapped in cloth, and perfectly coiffed.
Often sporting some semblance of African garb, they greeted each other with radiant smiles and sincere hugs. The men were just as well turned out, groomed and strolling, swagger restrained to just the right setting of coolness.
For Yvette Aldama, the crowd itself was her favorite part of the event. “We were greeting each other by saying ‘Happy Black Joy Day,’ and people responded ‘Happy Black Joy Day to you.’”
Vendor Marisol Catchings of ‘Azteca Negra’ productions almost didn’t make it to the event.
“I was tired that morning and I didn’t feel like going.” While setting up she started to get excited and once the crowd got there she forgot all about her tiredness. Catchings, who sells headwraps, earrings and other accessories was was busy all day teaching people how to wrap their heads and nearly sold out of her crafts. “I forgot I was tired until I was at home and fell into bed.”
Joya Brandon, a member of the Black Teachers Project, knew the group had done the right thing when educators on the sidelines, current and retired, started joining the parade.
“We came out because we wanted people to see that there are still black teachers in Oakland.”
The group, which originated in New York has chapters across the nation dedicated to stemming the exodus of black teachers who have a high rate of burnout.
Also key for Brandon was the opportunity to set up collaborations with other black organizations, in her case, Kelly Carlisle’s Acta Non Verba healthy food and the Black Girl Project.
Greenwell was also especially proud of similar connections for commerce. “It was Black Business Day, too. People did so well. The food vendors practically sold out.”
In the kid-free zone, “Hennessey came through in a nice way,” Greenwell said. “And, at an event with 14,000 people where liquor was sold there were zero arrests and zero injuries. That’s rare.”
Aware that trauma may preclude Black Joy, organizers brought in The Healing Collective and Healing for Black Lives to provide massage, Reiki healings and a relaxation and rest area at the Healing Village. Reshawn ‘Bushmama’ Goods signed up to do energy cleansings and simple divination. Each session takes 20-30 minutes and she was fully booked the whole day. “All my clients said they were really glad they came.”
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf was present and Councilwoman Lynette Gibson-McElhenney gave the Black Joy Parade a proclamation, but Greenwell, who has been asked to bring Black Joy parades to Los Angeles, Portland, Ore., Memphis and Birmingham, gave all the praise to Oakland itself.
“Oakland should take a bow. I didn’t do it. We did it.”