For months now through the pandemic, there’s been a brownstone- and tree-lined street hosting full-on dance parties in the early evenings. When we first stumbled upon one, we called it a Block Party–a quintessential New York City summer right of passage. There was no bounce house and no face painting, to River’s and Oak’s disappointment, but half the block was open for biking and running for the littlest ones. They were supported by strangers, keeping an eye on parked cars leaving the street. And once they’d ride or scoot their bodies into the dense part of the mask-clad crowds, people would part almost immediately, making way.
At the last party, a man with a cigarette, who I do not know at all but felt like I did, managed the kids’ bikes as they decided to ride and then not to ride upon seeing their friends. He didn’t flinch, just let me know not to worry, releasing me of the duty of picking up the bikes myself. There were theatrics, like a woman on stilts, and a boisterous clap for bus drivers,a sentiment that was normalized during our 7 p.m. clap for essential workers at the height of the pandemic. I heard that there was a bus driver who lives on that street, so maybe that’s why the clapping and the dancing became so loud as the bus slowly passed by. Or maybe it was just the simple recognition that these people are what kept the city, the city, when by all other accounts, it wasn’t. Even in the protests that followed, it was the horns of bus drivers cheering protesters on and stopping traffic. And of course, there’s the image of a bus driver refusing to transport a bus-load of detained protesters on behalf of the NYPD.
On this particular Brooklyn block, what you’ll notice very quickly is that many of the tenants and owners are Black. I assume, based on years’ worth of gazing and conversations, the buildings are inherited or bought before the economic crash, and the folks on this block have woven their roots together for much longer than I’ve been assuming about their lives. . It’s something that, even in the absence of a block party or dance party, is felt.
At one point on the last night, Oak swung on my hips, different from how he hung there as a baby.. Then my back became his dance partner, and I ignored the salty sweat that called my face home. We found our normal in a group of friends, in a cloud of bubbles and sea of bodies.
Music and joy on that street isn’t foreign. . Joy and dancing in good times, but particularly hard times, is part of a Black person’s DNA. It is how we’ve made it through. It is how we will always make it through. And what I found interesting on this particular night, and maybe what St. James joy and the joy of all the people who found themselves sliding across the hot Brooklyn summer asphalt is, is the demand for an anti-racist society rooted in Black liberation and freedom. Ultimately, Black joy. St. James Joy, consciously or unconsciously, in its creation asks those that participate to be active in dismantling this system, a system that not only left us harmed by the virus, but was ultimately evident as protests erupted in our city. I see that ask in the black t-shirts and Black Lives Matter hats worn by white faces on that particular street. And maybe in that joy, our friends on St. James are extending an invitation, as Black people do. At the end of my book, Latham Thomas says, “Joy Is Your Birthright, And Anything That Keeps You Away From Joy is Binding You From Freedom.”