'This Is What Makes Me Happy': Young DJs Amplify Black Joy

Sep 16, 2020
Originally published on September 16, 2020 10:46 am

It’s less than 30 seconds long but packs an unbridled shot of optimism. First, there’s a trilling flute and then a fourth-grade student lays down the tracks.

“This is what makes me happy: a girl being the president, I like eating pizza, being with my mom, I like being at camp and I like going outside and looking at stuff,” the student, known by his DJ name, Dee-Jay, says in the recording.

Dee-Jay's audio postcard is part of a project called Celebrate Black Joy. It was created by two New Orleans nonprofits, Be Loud Studios and 826 New Orleans.

Both groups are focused on amplifying youth voices, one through radio and the other through writing. This summer, they teamed up to collect stories of joy from Black children and turned some of them into short radio segments.

Education reporter Aubri Juhasz spoke with Alex Owens, founder of Be Loud Studios, and Kyley Pulphus, program director at 826 New Orleans. You can listen to their full conversation above or read an edited transcript below.

Aubri Juhasz: Kyley, can you start by telling me how this project got started?

Kyley Pulphus: With the racial reckoning that has been happening this summer and with folks finally being able to say Black Lives Matter, at 826 New Orleans we wanted to emphasize this idea that when we say Black Lives Matter, we mean a full life. Not just breathing, not just existing, but things that make life worth living. You know we are happy, we love things, we dance, we sing. We wanted to carve out a space for our young writers to share stories of things that made them happy.

Juhasz: Who exactly are these young Black DJs that you work with? Alex, can you tell me a little bit more about the kids that we’re going to hear from?

Alex Owens: They’re third-to-sixth-graders. This summer we did a really small summer camp in-person and the kids came and they got their own recording equipment. They got their own mic, their own iPad. We taught them really quickly how to speak into a mic, how to record their voice. Then every day we added on to those skills, how to add sound effects and how to mix music.

They really started from early on owning the recording process, and that really helped them to own the writing process.

Juhasz: The submissions are so joyful and I love how a lot of them are everyday joys, like sleeping in your bed, seeing your friends, hanging out with family. Kyley, I wanted to ask you to speak to the fact that while these are pretty universal joys, it’s still important to remember that the project is focused specifically on Black joy.

Kyley: You know, it brings me back to this moment that I had in a classroom a couple of years ago when a teacher asked her students, “Why is it important for young Black children to see themselves represented in the media?” And I pushed back on that question and said, “It's actually not just important for young Black children to see themselves in the media, it's important for everyone to see them in the media because it shows the humanity in us.”

I think that’s part of the issue that is going on in the world right now is that people are not seeing the humanity in Black lives. Think about how easy it is for you to swat a fly or a mosquito, stomp on a roach. It's because you don't value that life the same way that you value your own. That is what is allowing people to treat Black people a certain way.

So when we are hearing our young people share their joys, share what shows that they are children, just like other children, we are seeing the humanity in them. And that's really important.

Juhasz: Alex, who is the audience that you guys are hoping gets to hear these?

Owens: I think it would be easy to say we have grand ambitions about sharing this with the whole world, but we also know the impact of kids listening to each other first and foremost. When kids are scared to record something and then just play it for the other kids in the class or in the group, them getting over that hurdle is really powerful.

It is also a vehicle to build empathy between those kids and we think that doesn't happen enough. We think when it does happen it can be really, really powerful, not just for the kid who's created that content, but for kids who might not share that same experience.

Be Loud Studios and 826 New Orleans are still collecting stories of Black joy from Black youth. To learn more, visit their project page. Later this month, Be Loud Studios will begin hosting its own weekly radio show on 102.3 WHIV.

Special thanks to the DJs featured in our radio segment — Dee-Jay, DJ Lani, DJ Loud, and DJ KJ.