By Serena Lopez
In the second grade, Imani Busby would make jewelry and bracelets and sell them to her friends at school and family, always looking forward to her next art class. But it wasn’t until she was in her junior year of high school that Busby decided to focus on painting as her artistic medium and make it a career. The second-year creative industries student applied to her program looking to build on an entrepreneurial spirit and combined it with her creativity that she had been exploring since childhood.
Prior to pursuing a career in the arts at Ryerson, Busby said she was intent on using her art and creativity to build a more inclusive and diverse space for Black creators. Creating things has always been the best way for her to express herself, take control of her own narrative and make room for other Black creatives to do the same.
“[Making art] for me is a way of increasing the positive representation of Black people within the art industry, because there’s so many negative narratives that are out there,” said Busby. “Through my art, I try to show people just being. Not even just being happy, but just existing.”
Last fall, Busby was given the opportunity to collaborate with Mir Asoh and Adele Lukusa, two peers and fellow creatives. They took on a unique project that combined their artistic vision and their self-starting skills to define what Black joy means to them and the Black community. After several meetings, the three decided to workshop a project including Black creatives and voices from the community.
The project became The Little Book of Black Joy; a book that Busby, Asoh and Lukusa brainstormed for over four months in collaboration with the Faculty of Communication and Design’s (FCAD) Black History Month committee.
The team decided on the concept of incorporating responses from Ryerson’s Black community members and their own personal artwork into a collection of illustrations that would be accessible to their readers. Lacking human connection since transitioning to online university, Busby said she was excited to hear from her peers about what Black joy meant to them. The three created prompts to send to students while curating artwork that matched their responses.
“I feel like this is kind of also an acknowledgement that as much as there is bad, there is always good. There’s always joy”
Being able to reconnect with others through this project was refreshing, said Busby; it gave an insight into what other people were feeling towards the idea of joy, especially in light of anti-Black racism being named a public health crisis in the City of Toronto last June.
Ryerson has many different perspectives on what Black joy means and there are many ways in which Black students and community members experience joy, said Busby. “We were hoping to show that Black joy is not easily defined and that it can mean different things for different people and that there’s no one set definition.”
Although it was the first time the three had collaborated with each other on a project, Busby said the decision to centre Black student voices over their own came quickly. The team put callouts on social media asking Ryerson community members what Black joy meant to them and used the responses they collected to inspire the layout of the book, which demonstrates the vastness of Black joy.
The 46-page book was presented last month at The Catalyst, a dedicated space for research and creative activities within FCAD, during their Black in Motion event. Host Syrus Marcus Ware, alumni and activist, showcased both student work and panel discussions on accessibility, race and representation in the TV and film industry. The Little Book of Black Joy can be accessed for free online on Instagram or on The Catalyst’s website.
Lukusa, a fourth-year journalism student, said the book is meant to give readers a “colourful, artistic look” into how Black people experience joy, as a way to negate the always present discourse surrounding the trauma of Black communities.
“I feel like this is kind of also an acknowledgement that as much as there is bad, there is always good. There’s always joy,” said Lukusa “This is just one of many reminders that Black joy is striving.”
“Emotions move us just like music; just like drama and just like nature, it moves us to do something and moves us to change and moves us to respond”
The media’s representation of racialized groups in Canada that rarely include stories highlighting the positivity within communities continues to be challenged by groups like the Canadian Journalists’ of Colour (CJOC) and the Canadian Association of Black Journalists (CABJ).
Last year, CJOC AND CABJ released a call to action to the media with demands for how to increase racial representation in newsrooms and improve news coverage for racialized groups in Canada.
For the three creators, art projects like The Little Book of Black Joy contribute to reshaping the narrative of the Black community by involving community members in the story development process and focusing on what they enjoy through positive storytelling. They help to encourage change in a different and more creative way.
Genevieve Alao, a registered psychotherapist and founder of Corner Counsellor, said art is an amazing tool that can be useful in challenging harmful narratives, as well as helping people process and understand how these narratives affect them emotionally.
“We can’t heal what we don’t feel. We also can’t feel what we don’t reveal. At the end of the day we get an understanding of an experience, we can do something about it,” said Alao.
She said acknowledging the emotions art evokes can help individuals cope with negativity by figuring out how it hinders them from progressing or how it can help motivate them instead.
“Emotions move us just like music; just like drama and just like nature, it moves us to do something and moves us to change and moves us to respond,” said Alao.
Missing from the final version of The Little Book of Black Joy are the creators individual responses to the definition of Black joy.
Lukusa said although talking about the harsh realities for Black people is important, Black joy to her is being able to appreciate the honesty in how Black people communicate with each other through humour in hard times. “Seeing Black people still choosing to hope and still choosing to dream and still choosing to live, that’s really joyful to me,” said Lukusa.
Busby shared similar sentiments, stating that Black joy to her means “expressing yourself and letting yourself feel everything that you’re feeling and giving yourself time to heal,” while also developing resilience and remaining joyful during rough times in your life.
“[The process] started from joy and all throughout the book the message is joy and it ended with joy,” said Busby.
She said the journey of the The Little Book of Black Joy is not quite over yet as the three creators have plans to use the responses from community members that didn’t make it into the first book to help inspire a new book in the future.
In recognition of the community support in helping put the book together, they’re exploring the possibilities of self-publishing the book into a physical copy and using the proceeds from sales to help start a scholarship or nonprofit that would support budding Black artists.
“We definitely want this to be something that lives on and continues to spread joy and support the community,” said Busby.