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Giving birth to Oakland's Black Joy Parade

Black Joy Parade shines light on positivity in Oakland
Black Joy Parade shines light on positivity in Oakland 04:39

One woman's love for her city of Oakland and its rich community has led her to shine a light on what's good in "the Town" by holding the annual Black Joy Parade. 

A simple wall decorated with a series of posters inside the home office of Elisha Greenwell is a reminder of the past six years of her life.

"When I see these posters, it does evoke a feeling," said Greenwell. "They are 100% my baby."

The posters mark a moment in time each year, including the first poster from 2018 when she gave birth to the idea of the Black Joy Parade.

"This first one makes really emotional, because it was a big event and it is signed by all these people," she said. "It is really beautiful to see how committed they all are to working with me. I know I am the founder, but at the end of the day, none of this would be possible without all of those people."

The Black Joy Parade was born from the marches and protests of Black Lives Matter and Occupy to a community fighting for social justice.

"That was really the only time you saw a lot of us together. It was these fights against the system and having to be on the frontlines like we always are," said Greenwell. "And I just wanted to have a moment where it wasn't that; that we were gathered in a big group for celebration."

And it was during that first celebration, when more than 14,000 people showed up that she and her sister and co-founder Amber Lester knew they had created something special.

"And I remember the very first day, my sister and I are standing above Broadway, and we could see all these people. And were crying," remembered Greenwell. "That's when I realized we really struck a nerve. It wasn't just something we wanted and needed, but so many other people were craving it."

Since then, the Black Joy Parade has grown with more visitors, more performers, and more sponsors, reaching up to 40,000 people at its peak.

"It is my favorite event in Oakland," said Kale Woods, whose Heat Danceline team has performed each year, and has been honored several times.

Woods applauds Greenwell's vision for the community and city of Oakland, and says she is proud to be a part of it.

"It really inspired me and allowed me to say, we we can dream bigger for Oakland," said Woods. "And we are kind of the aunties and uncles who are bringing this new young wave of kids up. And I think there is such inspiration being able to picture what we want to see in Oakland, and then actually see it come into fruition."

For Greenwell, the parade has also become an extension of the world she imagines for her unborn daughter.

"I'm due the week before the Black Joy Parade," said Greenwell. "So, I might have two babies at the same time this year."

Her office is now slowly transforming into a nursery. A mobile now hangs in front, and a tiny bed lies beneath the series of Black Joy posters.

"I love the idea of my child looking up and seeing all these beautiful positive poster as she grows up," Greenwell said. "And imagine getting to grow up with Black Joy, and that parade being a part of your childhood memory."

The 7th annual Black Joy Parade takes place in downtown Oakland on Sunday, February 25th. More information is available at the Black Joy Parade website.

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