With Omicron cases on the decline and the loosening of mask-wearing restrictions on the incline, the timing seems right for a community to come together and celebrate. And that's exactly the intention behind the Black Joy Parade -- a free-to-the-public event that proudly showcases Black experiences, history and culture -- starting at 12:30 p.m. Sunday.
“This year, I've been calling it 'the largest family reunion you will ever go to,'" says Shavonne Reel Graham, press lead of the nonprofit Black Joy Parade. And rightfully so, since Black Joy Parade had to resort to virtual options and various small satellite events in 2021, instead of one large in-person event, because of the pandemic.
"It just wasn't safe enough yet," Graham explains. With a year off from the merry get-together in downtown Oakland, referring to the return of Black Joy Parade in 2022 as one big "family reunion" seems more than fitting.
Shares Graham, "We're really excited that we are one of the first free vessels to come back. I mean, we're still in the pandemic, but it's not so scary anymore, you know?"
The Black Joy Parade went virtual and occurred on a smaller scale in 2021. In the previous year, though, it was held in-person, just before the pandemic shutdowns of large gatherings. Says Graham,"Because we're always the last Sunday of February, it was probably one of the last, if not the last, really large event in California that happened before the shutdown, before COVID."
Graham, who grew up and currently lives in Oakland, sees the East Bay city as a location where Black people have continuously had freedom. She says, "It's always been a place where we're celebrated, where revolution has started. We are always unique; we always start trends. It's just what Oakland is."
When initially giving thought to the idea of a parade, Elisha Greenwell, BJP founder and CEO, decided she wanted to create a positive, community-focused event in Oakland. As Graham explains, "It was at a time when people were heavily protesting -- there was a lot of destruction downtown, a lot of anger." And to counter that anger, Greenwell assessed that bringing joy into the space was the right thing to do.
According to its website, the mission of the Oakland-based nonprofit Black Joy Parade is "bold Blackness, creative expression, economic empowerment and unwavering optimism. [It] exists to provide the Black community and allies a live experience that celebrates our influence on cultures past, present and future. We will unite a diverse community by creating a space to express each of our unique contributions to the Black experience. We invite you to be creative, be open, be present, be free."
This Sunday marks the comeback of the full-fledged, joy-filled parade on Oakland's Broadway, from 14th to 20th streets, with participants such as dance troupes, drummers, the Oakland Black Cowboy Association, a car club, Greek and Panhellenic organizations, individuals on lowrider bikes, a circus troupe with people on stilts and corporate sponsors' employee resource groups.
“It's very welcoming and very all-encompassing," says Graham of the parade. She compares the BJP to the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade held in New York City, minus the gigantic balloons, as well as to other major parades held in the Bay Area and elsewhere.
"We want to make sure that we are showing that being Black is not a monolith," she says. "So, everything you will see, it's not just the stereotypical what you think of Black people when people think Black people. I'll give you an example: My father always calls it the Black pride parade. And my father's 70, and to him, he's just thinking, Black Panthers and pride and stick your fist up. And we have that there, but it's so much more than just that.
“In Oakland, we really don't do parades," she continues. "I know that there's the Lunar New Year Parade in San Francisco every year which is large, so it gives that feeling, but the thing that sets us apart is the celebration piece at the end."
And oh what a celebration it will be this Sunday, with 200-plus vendors from predominantly Black-owned businesses; a Soho House Portrait Lounge where attendees can have their self-portraits done; a Lululemon-sponsored Healing Village that includes tarot card readings, yoga and other therapeutic offerings; a skating rink; the Games and Grooves Zone featuring chess, dominoes and spades; and the Hennessy Lounge with a full bar and jazz music. The block party-esque site also has a kids' zone -- Lil' Joy -- that features face-painting, balloon-twisting and a bounce house.
Graham says, "It is literally the biggest festival that everyone will enjoy, from your grandma to the smallest baby. We try to encompass the entire community. Even if you're not Black - if you are just a supporter and an ally - this is for you. If you have Black children, mixed race children, and you want them to be able to come into these Black spaces, we welcome you. We want you to bring them there. If you are someone of color and you have a spouse or a partner that is not Black, we welcome them. It's that kind of energy and space."
The Black Joy Parade team is expecting 20,000 to 30,000 people to attend Sunday's parade and celebration event. Graham, for one, is more than ready for the large crowd: "It's going to be so exciting. I mean, we've taken precautions, we have masks ordered and we were prepared for people to have to wear their masks at the parade, but the fact that they don't have to now is just really amazing. To see all the smiles is going to be really good."
The Black Joy Parade starts at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at 14th Street and Broadway, near Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in Oakland. For more information, visit https://www.blackjoyparade.org/.