What does Black joy and resistance look like? What does it taste like?
Baker and chef Maya-Camille Broussard, who is the owner of Chicago’s popular bakery, Justice of the Pies, along with Kleaver Cruz, creative and creator of the Black Joy Project and writer of the upcoming book of the same name, dove into such a topic in New York City recently at Pier 57’s Platform, on behalf of the James Beard Foundation and in partnership with Pepsi Dig in. In front of an audience of fans and foodies, the two talked about how the work they do is connected to Black history and the preservation of Black culture. The conversation, “Talks and Tasting: Food Resistance, and Black Joy,” touched on a range of other things, including what inspired the creation of Cruz’s Black Joy Project (the passing of a loved one, too much Black death in the news and grappling with their own sadness). If you’re unfamiliar, the project initially started in 2015 as their effort to spend 30 days utilizing social media to deliberately share all kinds of photos of moments of Black joy (including of their family members experiencing it). The work continues, and the impact is not only felt by Black people living in the U.S., but also abroad.
“I had someone message me, ‘I woke up from this terrible nightmare and seeing these pictures helped me calm down enough to go back to sleep. Can you keep doing this?'” Cleaver shared. “This started because I wanted to feel and be better. I didn’t want to feel sad in the way that I was, and it’s grown into so much more.”
Broussard also talked about the ways in which she integrates the depth of Black history and culture into something seemingly simple, like desserts, as her own form of resistance. For instance, the pie served at the end of the event, which is in her book, Justice of the Pies: Sweet and Savory Pies, Quiches, and Tarts plus Inspirational Stories from Exceptional People (which Cruz is featured in), was a great example. It was a brandied banana butterscotch pie. Banana is something greatly used by Black people the world over, including plantain, while brandy, she noted, “was once a method of currency to trade Black lives.”
Both parties talked about what they’re most proud of about the impact of the work they’re doing.
“To now almost eight years later [since the project started] see how much Black joy is in the air. Even with Black Lives Matter, the goal is Black liberation. Black Lives Matter is going to come and go. Black Joy is a term that we are using, but I’m not tied to that,” Cruz said. “The language is always going to shift and we know what joy is. We know what it is and we don’t need a word for it. But when we give it language, it becomes conscious. Now that we have a word, it’s something we can actually use.”
As for Broussard, she says she seeks to create change by taking Blackness far and wide.
“When I started Justice of the Pies, I knew I didn’t only want to create a bakery—I wanted to create a bakery with purpose. Anything that I do has to have purpose or some sort of meaningful action behind it,” Broussard said at the event to ESSENCE. “In terms of Blackness, it was really important for me to do two things. The first was to open my very first brick-and-mortar business on the South Side of Chicago where I grew up. The second was to open it in a neighborhood that was blighted, that did not see a lot of private investment. With my visibility and so-called ‘celebrity-hood,’ I could be an early adopter in the neighborhood and could encourage people to think about investing in the betterment of that neighborhood long term. People see firsthand how having a business like Justice in the Pies in the area, with its sleek design, upgrades and enhances the whole neighborhood. Hopefully, by seeing what I’ve been able to do, it encourages other people to bring their businesses there—people who not only have the means and money to make it happen, but who will really believe in it. The South Side deserves many blocks filled with businesses that look like mine.”
A highlight of the night’s talk, in addition to the mouthwatering pie, was hearing both parties talk about the relation of pain and joy for Black people.
“You said something that I thought was very profound. You said that ‘those who experience the most pain and trauma, are often those who experience the deepest forms of joy. A heartbreak creates depth, so that one can love even more moving forward,'” said Broussard to Cruz. “I would love to hear from you, how you see that quote manifested?”
“What came to mind was when we were doing the organizing…mostly around Black women and girls, trans folks, queer folks. The people within Blackness that don’t get that much attention,” they replied. “A lot of the heartbreak I experienced was that. We were at a vigil for a Black trans woman that got killed and I can count the number of people that were there. And that most of them were trans. So actually, nobody really showed up that wasn’t directly affected by that situation. That was the heartbreak for me. Being a Black, queer person, realizing that people are not going to show up.”
They continued, “It’s going to be what it always is. Even in the collective that I’m in, it’s women and queer folks always. Consistently we’re the ones that show up. And everybody isn’t showing up for us. Even in the intersection of things, like in the Dominican organizing work that I’ve been a part of, we’ve talked about in how the LGBTQ movement in the DR, there might be anti-Blackness present. And in the anti-Blackness work, there’s homophobia present. Those are all heartbreaks to me. Those of us who are living with all of that, we then have to manage that and live in justice of it. Plus, show up for everybody else.”
“To me, that’s why it tends to be these groups of people who have shown me the depth of what Black joy is,” Cruz added. “That’s why it’s been such a platform to ask specifically, Black queer people and Black women, what does your joy mean to you?”
For the night, guests got to experience joy in the form of thought-provoking conversation, delicious pie, and immaculate vibes.
Pick up Cruz’s The Black Joy Project, due out on December 26, and Justice of the Pies: Sweet and Savory Pies, Quiches, and Tarts plus Inspirational Stories from Exceptional People, available now. For more info on events from Platform by the James Beard Foundation, that can be found at platformbyjbf.org.