Illustration depicting Nacala Ayele's face with a pink circle enclosed around her name.

‘Like Fine Wine, Black Joy Over Time’: The Necessity of Black Joy Narratives to Black Liberation

by Nacala Ayele

(This article is reprinted with permission from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods and Reagan Jackson. Read the full “Reimagining Black History Month” series on Stories and profiles will be added throughout the month.)

As a Joy Actualization Coach for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, I define joy as the internal sense of well-being, satisfaction, and contentment that is independent of external circumstances. For Black People, the necessity of prioritizing joy can be a hard sell. How are we supposed to be joyful in the face of viral Black death, police murders, racial, health, educational, and economic disparities that are driven by a white supremacist system, and the many other ways that the length and quality of our lives are diminished by white supremacy? During Black History Month, we do deep dives into historical trauma, tragedy, and oppression, all of which make it hard to consider joy as something that should be prioritized, much less as a tool for liberation.

A Case for Joy

Joy is essential for Black liberation because it offers a source of strength, hope, and resilience in the face of injustice. It provides a way for Black People to express emotions that are often silenced in oppressive systems and gives people the internal resources to keep fighting for their dignity and humanity no matter what form oppression may take. In addition, joy can be used as a tool for resistance and transformation — inspiring others through uplifting acts of solidarity, celebrating victories (even small ones), and creating safe spaces where authentic expressions of happiness are shared. Joy is more than an emotion — it is a powerful political act that signals to the world that Black People have the power and nearly supernatural resilience to choose freedom even in the face of systemic domination and oppression.

Happiness researchers like Shawn Achor, who wrote The Happiness Advantage, say that happy brains are 31% more productive, 37% better at sales, and three times more creative than brains that are negative, neutral, or stressed. How does this translate to liberation? It tells us that in the fight for liberation and social justice, centering our joy fortifies us with more tools to advance our work and sustain ourselves and each other.

To this end, the idea for Like Fine Wine, Black Joy Over Time was born. I wanted to create a collection of narratives that speak to our joy. Not just hopes for a better future, but a deep exploration of how Black community members practiced joy back in the day and how those Elders continue to practice joy today. Joy for our people is not just possible, but it has happened. It still happens and, in ever-increasing amounts, will continue to grow.

Why Elders and Why Joy?

Black Elders are magical! In my community, their role is extremely important. More than age, it is about the ways a person has contributed to their community. The ways they have modeled personal growth, care for the collective community, self-care and kindness, well-being, accountability for their mistakes, thought partnership, and thought leadership.

Elders are hilarious! They know how to laugh at themselves and how to help you laugh at yourself too. They provide historical perspective and context. They understand the long game. They can clearly connect the struggles of today to the struggles of yesterday. They have endured and come through struggles with a grounded perspective that helps us to contextualize the struggles and opportunities we are presented with today. The cherished Elders in my community continue to be sources of learning, inspiration, and support for me even in my 40s.

The Project

Like Fine Wine, Black Joy Over Time* is a filmed collection of joy narratives told by Seattle-based Black Elders. The project asks the Elders to share the ways they have experienced and continue to experience joy in their lives and what advice they would give to community members about joy.

This project blesses the local Black community with an inside look at not only the stories of our Elders and their joy in times past but also with beautiful recollections of Seattle from as far back as the 1950s. This project is an unapologetic celebration of Black JOY. It is sweet and beautiful, inspiring, and delicious. It is a peek into the backstories of some of Black Seattle’s favorite superheroes, our Elders.

In the inaugural edition of Like Fine Wine, Black Joy Over Time, we get to sit at the feet of Baba Khalfani Mwamba, professor at the University of Washington’s School of Social Work and founder of Mshenga A Babu (Message From The Ancestors) Rhythm Ensemble. Brother Khalfani speaks about the role that Black Positive Communication plays in his joy cultivation practice, and how it can help you build up yours too. His current projects include work in partnership with NW Tap Connection and the African language Library.

In addition to the filmed joy narratives, Like Fine Wine, Black Joy Over Time offers opportunities for the community to reflect on their own joy practices and joy plans. There are even opportunities to support the work that each of the Elders is doing locally and globally. Be sure to join the joy conversations with Joyful Practices on Facebook and @nacala_ayele on Instagram.

You can watch the Black History Month edition of Like Fine Wine, Black Joy Over Time on Saturday, Feb. 25, from 3 to 5 p.m. It will stream on Facebook Live from the Joyful Practices Facebook Page. A question-and-answer session will immediately follow the streaming of Khalfani Mwamba’s joy narrative.

In addition to the filmed joy narratives, there are opportunities for the community to reflect on their own joy practices and joy plans.

Follow me at Joyful Practices on Facebook and @nacala_ayele on Instagram to stay in the conversation of growing your joy! Be sure to catch the joyful accounts of Dr. Marcia Tate Arunga in March, Ms. LueRachelle Brim-Atkins in April, and Dr. Joye Hardiman in May. So much more joy to come! Find out more about Joy Actualization Coaching at

*Like Fine Wine, Black Joy Over Time was funded by 4Culture.

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

Photo depicting Nacala Ayele wearing an yellow tank top and matching yellow jewelry and accessories.

Nacala Ayele was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, in both the South End and the Central District.  She comes to coaching from a background of art, healing, service, and activism. Nacala believes that Joyful people who operate from their own genius have the power to transform not only themselves, but their families, communities, and the world. Nacala is committed to centering the experiences of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities and helping her clients to design their lives around the things that bring them the most joy.

📸 Featured Image: Illustration by Susie Philipsen, courtesy of the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods.

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