Celebrate Black joy with Jasmine Bradshaw
by Melanie Gasmen-Fleck
Jasmine Bradshaw’s the founder and host of the First Name Basis Podcast, a must-listen parenting resource that focuses on how to talk to kids about race, religion, and culture. In each weekly episode, she shares actionable items to support an anti-racist household. Get to know Jasmine and her insight into the importance of Black joy.
Tell us a little bit about your experience growing up and learning about Black history.
I did not enjoy Black History Month growing up. Not because Black history is not enjoyable, but because my teachers had left out all of the uplifting, happy parts. In school, we focused solely on Black struggle. The struggle for freedom from the chains of enslavement. The struggle for liberation from racist laws and practices. This practice was more like grieving than celebrating. And as heavy as that was for me as a Black student, it also failed my non-Black classmates, who began to resent learning about Black history as well.
While the struggle for equality is undeniably an integral part of Black history, we miss out when we overlook the creativity, ingenuity, joy, and brilliance that is found in the Black community. If it weren’t for the stories of power and beauty that I was learning at home with my family, I would have had a very distorted view of my Black heritage.
How does your family celebrate Black History Month now?
Our Black History Month celebration centers around Bite-sized Black History. Bite-sized Black History is a program I created to help families and teachers embrace Black history and celebrate meaningfully. It highlights 12 brilliant Black Americans that have been largely overlooked by our history books.
Each lesson of Bite-sized Black History has everything we need to snuggle up on the couch and foster meaningful conversations that go beyond the bounds of civil rights and enslavement. These 12 bite-sized podcast episodes, coloring pages, and reflection questions paint a well-rounded picture of Black history. We celebrate dancers, inventors, doctors, activists, and so much more! It is the program I wish I had growing up, and I am so grateful that I’ve gotten to share it with my babies and with so many children around the world!
What is Black joy, and why is it important to focus on?
When you see Black joy, you are witnessing a miracle. This country was built on our suffering. The systems we operate under were created to disenfranchise and oppress us. So when we see Black people, whether currently or in history, who are taking up space, falling in love, resting as a form of resistance, and occupying positions of power, we all have a reason to celebrate! Black joy is standing firmly in your worth and embracing the fullness of your human experience, even when your country denies your humanity.
What are some things you think would help change the narrative around Black history?
The biggest thing we can all do to change the narrative around Black history is to embrace the truth that Black history is American history. I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase thrown around, but I want you to stop for a minute and think about what it would mean if we all truly believed that Black history is American history. Let me give you a glimpse into what I envision. I envision children, parents, students, and teachers excited about, fascinated by, and fluent in Black history. I envision Black history being the focus of our conversations about patriotism and what it means to be an American. I envision children summoning strength from the stories of Black heroes when they are faced with an opportunity to be brave, curious, or ambitious. Lastly, I envision Black history being taught all year round, not just in February.
How do you create that balance between teaching your own children about Black struggle and Black joy?
My kiddos are still young, so for now, we focus on Black joy and Black joy alone. My job right now is to make sure that they are confident and secure in their identity and their heritage. In a couple of years, when the time is right, I will teach them about Black struggle. When we speak of struggle, we will focus on the power that we have to make change. There have always been people standing up against oppression and fighting for what’s right. I will help my girls understand that we can be those people. The last piece of the puzzle is to teach my children that Black joy and Black struggle are inextricably intertwined. Our centuries-long refusal to submit to the oppressor‘s chains is a miraculous triumph and one that we celebrate with radiant joy.
Who is a Black American from history that inspires you? Why?
Outside of my grandmother, the story I turn to for inspiration is that of civil rights leader John Lewis. I love his story because he never wavered in his commitment to justice. Every time I’m feeling weighed down by the heaviness of this work, I read my favorite quote by John Lewis: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble." I am constantly learning from his ability to see light in the darkness and push the people around him to reach their full potential. I will do everything I can to make some good trouble and help create the inclusive and anti-racist community we all deserve.
Do you have any tips that could help families celebrate Black history and culture beyond Black History Month?
I once heard someone say, “We celebrate Black history all year round. Black History Month is just our anniversary.” I think if we are all able to shift our focus and embrace that mindset, we will see plenty of opportunities to celebrate Black history beyond Black History Month. Consider Black inventors when your children have to write a report for school. Consider Black authors when you are choosing your next book for book club. Take a critical look at your life. Do you live in a way that shows you believe Black Lives Matter? Is there a Black dentist in your area that you can go to? Is there a sports league that your child can join that would give them an opportunity to play with and learn from Black teammates? When you take some time to reflect, you will see that the opportunities to celebrate the beauty of Blackness are all around you.