My Son Embodies Black Boy Joy — Here's How I Plan to Protect It

Elizabeth Ayoola
Elizabeth Ayoola

Before my son was born, his dad and I played around with names. We finally narrowed down the list and settled on Ayomikun — meaning "my joy is full" in the Yoruba language. This name is befitting because my son is the embodiment of Black boy joy. I don't say this because he's my son; he is, hands down, one of the happiest humans I've ever met. I don't know anyone else who wakes up laughing and goes to sleep beaming.

I often get stopped and receive comments about how happy and full of joy he is. While those are some of my proudest moments, they also worry me. Sometimes, I wonder whether he's too happy for a Black boy. He isn't yet aware that he is Black and exists in a world where race matters more than it should. And while the world is heavy, I don't want him to lose his Black boy joy — here is how I plan to protect and nurture it.

  1. Showing him examples of Black boy joy.
    Although news headlines tell us otherwise, there is so much Black joy around us. I hope that by seeing it in people around him, my son has the courage to fully express his joy without reservations.

    I plan to show him exemplary Black men who succeeded at crushing stereotypes and beating the odds. Examples include Lebron James with his comic Taco Tuesdays and jovial Black men like my local postman who find joy in mundane activities, like bringing us mail. I want my son to know Black joy can be found in celebrities like Denzel Washington, who's achieved global fame, or local heroes, like Black elementary school teachers who save the world one student at a time.

  2. Investing in therapy.
    Let's face it, growing up Black is complicated. As a matter of fact, growing up at all comes with its own challenges. Because of this, I plan to put Ayo in therapy before he turns 10, so he has a positive outlet for negative emotions that may try to kill his joy. I know that, before I turned 10, I experienced microaggressions, racial profiling, and blatant racism. In many ways, it dimmed my light.

    As an adult, I'm grieving the joy I could have had if there was someone there to tell me it was OK to be comfortable in my skin despite those experiences. I know therapy is a way to protect his joy when he's faced with the harsh realities of being Black that I cannot control.

  3. Avoiding toxic masculinity.
    Toxic masculinity is often subconsciously perpetuated within the Black community. It starts with little things like telling boys they shouldn't show too much emotion or that they have to always be "tough." I want to teach my son the complete opposite because he's human and feels a range of emotions — joy included. Joy is a positive emotion, and it should never be hidden, especially not because you're a Black boy!

    Growing up, I was told to calm down when I was overzealous or too excited, and now I subconsciously contain my excitement. I don't want that for him. I let my son laugh unrestricted, cry freely, and even when he's jumping off the walls, I celebrate his joy. It's my way of teaching him that he's worthy of joy and every ounce of it is valid.

  4. Educating him on structural racism.
    I wish we lived in a world where I didn't have to teach my son about racism, but we don't. I would rather he grows up understanding what it is than be paralyzed by it. Racism can have lasting effects on his mental health, so he should be enlightened.

    I will continue reading him books that educate him and begin dialogue around race when he's old enough to understand. The most important lesson I'll teach is that, as Black people, we are more than our traumatic past and present experiences; we are more than our suffering. We are an embodiment of joy. Our cultural idiosyncrasies are magical, our sense of humor and quirks are valid sources of happiness. And we don't have to hide them — ever.

He must know that even though he will grow in systems created to breed "angry Black men," he can choose to be the complete opposite. And if he believes in and embraces his joy as much as I do, he will be so much more.