| USA TODAY
Being joyful is itself an act of resistance in times of unrest and trauma. For Black creators, bringing moments of positivity to their followers is a break amid sadness, a light shining when it seems like hope is lost.
As many Black people and communities grapple with the coronavirus pandemic (with its disproportionate effects on people of color) and the ongoing protests and conversations around racism and equity, Black creators, influencers and celebrities are providing the space to heal, laugh and connect.
Brown’s Southern accent soothes and delights as she gives motivational talks and guides fans through recipes sprinkled with her signature phrases “like so, like that” or “’cause that’s our business.”
“I think my content has a responsibility to bring light every day, whether it’s in laughter, whether it’s in inspiration, whether it’s through food,” she tells USA TODAY. “I want to be helpful to people.”
The actress-turned-vegan foodie and TikTok star is reveling in being herself. Brown made the switch away from a career’s worth of acting work and into creating uplifting internet videos after battling almost two years of chronic pain and fatigue.
“I was so sick on certain days I thought I was going to die,” she says.
Brown watched the documentary “What the Health,” then tried veganism. Brown says the diet worked to cure her ailments, and she decided to make more life changes.
“For years, I always covered my accent because I was told to,” Brown says. “I always wore my hair long and straight because I was told to, always trying to be a certain look to fit in to what I thought Hollywood wanted me to be. I often think that some of the reason I got sick is because I was suffocating the real me.
As Brown serves up vegan dishes and compelling mini sermons to her 2.6 million Instagram followers (and her more than 4 million TikTok followers she’s amassed since her March 8 debut on the app), she joins others who spread joy in their own ways.
Alongside her posts about social and political activism, actress Yara Shahidi shows up on her Instagram feed with short videos of herself smiling and dancing. Creator Donté Colley dances on-screen alongside encouraging affirmations. “Scandal” star Washington leads yoga sessions as part of a recent IGTV series (when she’s not posting about wearing masks or demanding justice).
For those who follow them, the lighthearted posts are a welcome respite when scrolling through posts about death, sickness and inequality.
“There are studies that show that social media can be quite traumatizing in terms of being exposed to racial trauma. At the same time, people still find joy in the midst of pain,” says Angel Dunbar, developmental scientist and assistant professor in the African American Studies department at the University of Maryland.
“Black people have done this for millennia. If people can find humor during slavery, we can find humor now. It’s helpful toward improving mental health, but also decreasing bad things and increasing resiliency.”
From his energetic choreography to his relatable rants and self-affirmations, it’s hard not to smile watching Thompson’s aspirational air of confidence.
Thompson’s story is not unlike Brown’s journey to self-acceptance.
“As a kid growing up in North Carolina, I was shy. I was bullied for being gay and being an extra-loud person,” the Vine-turned Instagram star told The New York Times in a 2019 interview. “When I look back, I wish I could tell myself not to change myself. You will be loved for being yourself.”
Colley’s videos are a burst of positivity and color, reminders that everything will be OK.
“When I was younger, I tried to get more involved in the dance community, but I felt like I didn’t belong being the only Black boy amongst a majority of white girls who would tease me,” Colley tells USA TODAY.
This dancer packs a positive message into his moves
Donté Colley never intended to become a motivational dancer, but now he has a following of people who love his positive messages.
After suffering losses in his family, Colley says he had “a wake-up call” about using his voice to be supportive of others: “Because as a Black person, our whole journey is trying to keep all our emotions within because we’re supposed to be strong, we’re supposed to be these tough people – but we’re also human, too. What’s important is letting other people know you’re not in this alone.”
Or look to Jay Versace. He has mastered providing humor in walking, dancing and expressing himself exuberantly to his 4.3 million Instagram followers. The influencer’s content constantly finds new life, often receiving meme treatment on social media (a video of him dining enthusiastically became the ideal of how people said they would “be eating when the restaurants open back up” post-coronavirus, racking up hundreds of thousands of likes and retweets).
“Sometimes, Black people can be shamed for finding jokes in things. But negative or positive emotions are not mutually exclusive,” Dunbar says. “You can be sad, you can be angry and still have joy and make jokes, and that’s actually perfectly fine and healthy.”
Brown says she wants to be “whatever it is (my viewers) need in that moment.”
“So that even if it’s for one minute, it’s an escape for whatever they have going on in life,” Brown says. “They can laugh a little bit or cry if they need to, but they just feel like they have somebody in that moment.”
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