In celebration of Juneteenth, We Are Memphis is focusing on sharing stories from our Black community. While the holiday commemorates freedom, for so many Black Memphians (and Black communities across the country), it’s about so much more! With the many stories and perspectives to share, we’ve sat down with the city’s favorite creatives, influencers, civic leaders, and more to highlight their stories of freedom of expression, joy, and living unapologetically.
Want to get in on the conversation? Share your story with us! Use #bringyoursoul and #wearememphis. We’ll be reposting stories throughout the month!
Carl Bledsoe Jr.
When you think of the phrase “Black joy,” what does that mean to you? How do you look for moments of joy in your daily life?
To me, the phrase “Black joy” means strength & healing. The strength of a laugh is in Dick Gregory, is in Monsters Inc., is in a child. You heard “laughter is the best medicine,” right? When do people need medicine? I don’t look for moments of joy in my daily life: they just happen & I see them & I’m thankful. I have a great life, and I’m constantly thanking GOD & my ancestors: this keeps me grounded…not “humbled,” but grounded. I smile at life.
Thinking about the community around you, how do they give you joy or help you pursue your own?
My loved ones are my community. They give me joy by being themselves: striving for their dreams unapologetically & fiercely. People like Carisa & Kara Bledsoe, Noah Stewart, @shotontheblock, and Jordan Dodson, @jordanoccasionally, inspire me. The city of Memphis, of course, is in there, too. My city brings me joy through its story: the necessary past, progressive present, and brilliant future.
Think about the thing, people, or Memphis-related place that brings you the most joy or allows you to be who you are. How does that thing, person, or place do that for you?
My joy stems from courageous roots. Nothing & no one “allows” me to be who I am. Only I have that power here. Places like the National Civil Rights Museum, Robert R. Church Park, and Clayborn Temple encourage me. I see what my people accomplished in yesterday’s America and am motivated to persist & excel. Dr. Maya Angelou says that Courage is paramount: one must have the courage to love, to speak up, to trust, etc. This is Memphis.
How does Memphis (think the city, the community, the places here that you find the most peace) allow you to express yourself?
I feel like nothing “allows” me 2 express myself. I control that. Memphis is full of people who just… create. We just hella creative here: expressive. Always have been. Being around that energy affects you, whether you’re cognizant of it or not. I walk along Beale St & think of the gruesome lynchings as well as the ingenious artists who’ve shared this space: opportunists. Memphians create opportunities. I’m thankful for Launch Memphis for working with me as a photographer; I’m thankful for Raphael Baker, City Gear, and the Metal Museum for working with me as a model; I’m thankful for The University of Memphis for working with me as a student! Memphis was and is for creatives: our canvases are tangible, audible, scrollable, and soulful.
For the younger Black generations, what is your greatest piece of advice for living unapologetically or pursuing passions or joy?
Don’t wait for other people to be “ok” with who you are. Just go 4 it, and see what happens. If you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, you’ll know. GOD timing is inescapable, but not fighting it is a choice. See multiple angles. Don’t be limited by other people’s experiences: your story is specific. Love 💙 & follow @CarlBledsoeJr 😁✌🏾