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In Photos: Black Joy ‘By Any Means Necessary’

Cowboys, Double Dutch and more from Oakland’s annual Black Joy Parade to commemorate the close of Black History Month

Black life is too often associated with trauma, suffering and disadvantage. Whether it’s enduring a lifetime of systemic racism, avoiding police violence or merely living through the environmental decay of many of our neighborhoods, it ain’t easy being Black. And yet, despite it all, we remain joyful. 

Black joy is one aspect of Black life that can never be appropriated or imitated because it’s ours and ours alone. That said, it’s something that can be shared and celebrated by those within and outside the Black community. Along those lines, for the last five years, the City of Oakland, one of the Blackest cities in the West, has concluded Black History month with a parade dedicated exclusively to Black joy. This year marked a return to an in-person event after last year’s parade was held virtually, which also gave the day more cause for celebration. 

Roughly 20,000 people came out to celebrate Black joy on Sunday under the full kiss of the sun — a perfect way to enjoy the culture on the last weekend of February. Below are a number of photos I captured while in attendance.

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The Black Joy Parade is less about floats and marching bands and more about everyday Black people, organizations and associations.
By far the biggest hit of the parade had to be the arrival of the Black cowboys. People responded with cheers and wide smiles as the cowboys and their horses danced across the roads usually clogged with traffic.
Along with the parade, numerous streets were closed off in the downtown area for a street fair, which turned the city into an open-air party — one where Black children gathered to play chess.
No large gathering of Black families and friends feels fully complete without at least one table for the people playing bones. Older generations gathered to play, but also to pass on traditions, and to teach the young ones what to expect when they become grown folks. 
The Double Dutch rope stayed busy as mamas and aunties took turns showing off that they still had it like that.
Since all politics is personal, some local politicians also made sure to get out among the people and share their joy with their current or future constituents.
The joy of the event wasn’t always expressed with grins and bright eyes — sometimes it could be felt in the togetherness, or the relief of a daughter who got to enjoy part of the day from the safety and respite of her father’s shoulders.
The Black Joy Parade was a beautiful way to remind ourselves who we’ve been, who we are and how we keep our traditions alive while we continue to grow and reach for who we will become when tomorrow becomes today.