Growing up, "Black boy joy" isn’t something I would have seen regularly among my peers. My conditioning from the bedrock of Chicago’s south side was to avoid “being soft,” displaying emotion and expression.
When I think of them now, the destructive ideas about Blackness and masculinity that infiltrated my mind were no more than a fallacy: Don’t be too joyful, watch how much you smile, watch how you dress, display strength at all times, don’t show too much emotion, disarm everyone around you, don’t be too aggressive and definitely don’t seem too happy. These are just a few tainted lessons Black men are often taught.
But I’m a proud Black boy with joy, in line with the popular social media movement that embodies positive representation within Black male culture. #Blackboyjoy is a movement of fearlessness and fun, showcasing proud young Black men celebrating a variety of unexpected accomplishments. From fresh new hair do's, fishing, performing theater, wearing gender-neutral clothing and expressing their love of animals and nature. There is an immense pleasure in seeing us represented in a variety of ways outside of the stereotypical norm. Not only am I adherent to “Black Boy Joy,” I’ve graduated to the sentiments of being “Black Boy Fly.”
My friend Joshua Renfroe wanted to capture this movement and his new photo book, Black Boy Fly is a creative showcase of immense identity and power. It displays Black men being represented in a multi-faceted, melanin filled rainbow, and I’m honored to have co-produced this book with him.
“To Black men specifically, don’t forget you have exceeded expectations,” Renfroe told me recently. “You have been brought into a system that is not built for you to succeed. But this is for us. This is to be a little cocky. This is for all of us to take pride in who we are. This book is a celebration.”
Black Boy Fly, by Joshua Renfroe, and designed by Fred Sands IV, is available at Thecuratorynyc.com.
Stylists: Donnell Baldwin, Sydnee Paige, Raeana Anaiis and Erica Boisaubin.
Producers: TJ Ali Bowden and Adam LaPalio
This article originally appeared on VICE US.