After more than two years of a global pandemic, political turmoil, and overt racism toward all people of color, we find ourselves in this summer of 2022. Despite all the Black community has experienced over these last several years, still we rise because of the strength and resilience the ancestors left with us. We lift our heads above the realities of today to celebrate and embrace our wonderful Blackness – a Blackness that embraces, recognizes, and commemorates the beauty and history of Black and African American cultures.
For Black folks, summer is sacred. From the festivals, to the music, to the family reunions, to the smell of a backyard cookout, our traditions, rooted in our Africanness, are what makes us whole. For more than 400 years, our distinct African American culture has survived and evolved into something the world wants to be a part of.
As you go out and enjoy the beauty and Blackness of this summer of 2022, here are six ways Black folks have traditionally celebrated summer and represent our culture so well:
1. Black Festivals and Community Gatherings
2. The Traditional Black Cookout
3. Travel and Enjoying the Beach
4. Embracing Friends and Community in the Neighborhood
5. Embracing Traditional Black Hobbies, Games, and Culture
6. The Black Family Reunion
Our Black traditions are on full display in the summer, and live in the music we listen to, the food we eat, the games we play, and in every part of our lives.
African Ancestry should be part of that tradition, as we lead Black people all over the Diaspora on a life-changing journey to discover that Africanness that makes us who we are.
1. Black Festivals and Community Gatherings:
Black culture is so rich! And there’s nothing like celebrating our food, music, dance, traditions, and more in the company of other Black folks. There are many notable, annual festivals that allow us to unapologetically celebrate our culture like the Essence Festival, the American Black Film Festival, the Afropunk Festival, the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, and so many more.
2. The Traditional Black Cookout:
Yes, the Black cookout is a “thing.” If we had to choose one thing that represents Black culture the most, the cookout would definitely be at the top of the list. In Black and African American communities, we need to physically see one another to bond, reminisce, and reflect. And we do this over food – this is how the cookout came about. The food, influenced by slavery, is an integral part of the cookout. But it is also about celebrating the culture as a whole. Cookouts have survived throughout history thanks to the matriarchs of our Black families - the Nanas, Big Mommas, and Madeas that hold the family and community together. The cookout itself is sacred – we hold it very near and dear to our hearts. So, before you go bringing that roommate or colleague to the cookout, make sure you get permission first.
3. Travel and Enjoying the Beach:
Our Black history and the ocean and shores are inextricably tied. The African American experience is connected to the ocean. In fact, our story cannot be told without it. The ocean is a familiar place to us, as our ancestors traveled the ocean and were brought to the shores of America after surviving horrific cruelty during the Middle Passage. The waters hold the physical remains or our people and sunken slave ships that never arrived at these shores. But we as a people, honor our ancestors, and the many lives lost. The rivers, seas, and oceans served as an escape route during the Underground Railroad operations, and working as sailors, fishers, and crabbers allowed for upward mobility, eventually representing the best employment opportunity for Black Americans throughout the years. Although many popular beaches have been segregated or unwelcoming to Black folks over the years, the ocean remains a place of great joy and deep sorrow for us. Yet we celebrate the history, culture, and joy our ancestors built at historically Black beaches and shores around the country. And we work to preserve that history.
4. Embracing Friends and Community in the Neighborhood:
Is there a filmmaker who represents the Black summer culture better than the great Spike Lee? In two of his greatest films, Crooklyn, and Do the Right Thing, we see first-hand how Black folks celebrate, survive, and thrive in our own neighborhoods during the summer. In Crooklyn, we know what it means to sit on the “stoop,” and enjoy the company of neighbors, family, and friends. In Do the Right Thing, we are reminded of the unresolved brutality and violence Black communities are subjected to by law enforcement. But we are still able to celebrate the beauty of our summer neighborhoods through the music played by Radio Raheem, the old folks sitting on the corner talking about everyone who walks by, and Black folks just trying to get by and enjoy life doing so. That’s who we are.
5. Embracing Traditional Black Hobbies, Games, and Culture
From the heat waves, to the fire hydrant as a sprinkler, double dutch, braiding hair, to the card games always popping off at Auntie’s table, there are so many hobbies, games, and traditions we have adopted and perfected over the years. Most of us can recall sitting in between our mother’s legs as she made the perfect parts in our hair for our braids. The braids were always topped off with some beads, and if momma was in the mood, she might even add some plastic clips and bows. But our hairstyles are what connect us to our African roots like the hair beads worn by Fulani women and those in other West African ethnic groups. We celebrate who we are with our traditions and wear them and enjoy them all with pride. But before you sit down at the card table to play a game of spades, make sure you know how to shuffle!
6. The Black Family Reunion:
And last on the list, but certainly not least, is the Black Family Reunion! We all know there is nothing like a summer time family reunion with family shirts to boot. Historically, family reunions date all the way back to Emancipation following the Civil War. It was a common practice for Black folks and those formerly enslaved to seek out the family they were separated from during enslavement. This tradition eventually evolved into what we now call the family reunion, remaining something that represents a continuous celebration of kinship and the unwavering resilience that Black families endured over the centuries. From the matching t-shirts, to the outdoor picnics, the whiffs of BBQ and home-cooked food floating through the air, line-dancing, most of the family getting along, the family reunion will always be a staple for Black and African American culture. No matter how much turmoil and uncertainty there is in the world, family is a constant for us – there is always family. And family reunions are a way of life for us.