‘Black Boy Joy’ Interview with Khyneesha Edwards

Black Boy Joy

Black Boy Joy Yoga

Art in the Loop is thrilled to host Black Boy Joy Yoga at the Union Station streetcar stop on July 8th from 8:30 – 10:00 a.m. We interviewed artist Khyneesha Edwards to learn more about the original artwork Black Boy Joy that inspired the event.

Why did you apply to Art in the Loop?

I thought it seemed like a great way to connect with the community and other artists so I went to the info session. The 2023 theme of ‘Celebrate’ really resonated with me and I spent a lot of time brainstorming. I decided on Black Boy Joy because I wanted to focus on putting positive images of Black boys and Black men into the world. There’s so much negativity in the news and the media when it comes to Black people in general, but especially Black men. There are so many injustices that my people are fighting through, so I wanted to put something out there that would be a light in these dark times. 

Why focus on Black men specifically?

As a Black woman, I understand the importance of uplifting Black men and not just focusing on myself. We heal and we get free together. I wanted to say, “I see you, I hear you, I’m with you. You all go through so much, and society puts all these expectations on you.” I wanted Black men to be able to be joyous and express themselves. Live unapologetically. 

How did you come up with the art on the KC Streetcar stop?

The theme of ‘Celebrate’ gave me a lot of inspiration for the colors and the aesthetic. I chose bright colors because I wanted Black men and boys to feel free to live out loud and in color. They don’t have to suppress themselves. They can shout and exclaim without caring who’s looking. The lines going through the design represent liberation and that free-flowing vibe.

What inspired you to organize a yoga event along with your art piece?

At the info session, it was mentioned that community events are encouraged, and so after stewing on it for a while, I thought about ways Black men can express joy. One that I’ve picked up more lately is yoga. Yoga is gaining more popularity among all cultures and communities. I find it to be a great way to practice wellness in a very intentional way and I want to bring that to the community. I wanted to show that there is joy in claiming your health and your wellness.

Who is invited to Black Boy Joy Yoga?

The event is meant to be a safe space for Black men and Black boys to practice yoga. I want to ensure that this is a space for Black men and boys to exist freely and be with one another. All are welcome, though, especially if they understand the message and want to be allies to the Black community. 

Black Boy Joy Yoga is also a fundraiser; can you give more details?

The two organizations that are benefiting from this event are Black and Brown Men’s Healing Circle and High Aspirations. I’ve been following these two organizations for a while and they do a lot of great work in the community, especially for uplifting Black men and boys. Black and Brown Men’s Healing Circle focuses on men of color. They meet every Sunday and connect over  mental health, issues that impact men of color, meditative practices, ancestral healing, and more. High Aspirations works with boys ages 8-18 and gets them involved in the community, focusing on their social, academic, emotional and spiritual success. There are many ways to donate: 

  • Purchasing special Black Boy Joy merchandise at the yoga event. There will be t-shirts, yard signs, stickers, and keychains and $500 will go to each organization.
  • Donating directly to the organizations’ websites and Instagram accounts: @bbmhckc & @highaspirationskc
  • Donating directly by scanning a QR Code at Black Boy Joy Yoga

What was the process for making the merchandise?

I pulled the blue and green colors from the art I made at the streetcar stop. The artwork at the streetcar stop is very groovy, and that gave me a lot of inspiration. I used a bold font to allow the masculine and feminine aesthetics to coexist. There are confetti-esque marks around it to show the joy and celebration that this is all about. I also use the phrase ‘Black boy joy’ on all of it to keep it simple and open to interpretation. 

What does the phrase ‘Black boy joy’ mean to you?

To me, it means Black boys and men expressing themselves unapologetically and in ways that feel authentic to them. There are so many stereotypes out there, but Blackness is not a monolith. We are so many different types of people. I want Black boys and men to give themselves permission to be who they want to be.

What have your experiences been with ‘Black boy joy’ that led you to create this piece?

What I’ve appreciated recently is the reclaiming of it. I’m so here for Black men choosing to heal and rise above what society places on them. I have a nephew, who’s seven, and I love getting to see him learn and grow and experience this world. He has so much innocence, happiness, curiosity and wonder. When I look at him, I see ‘Black boy joy,’ and I want him to keep exploring what that means for him

How is this project different from the other work you’ve done?

I work full-time as a designer for a direct marketing agency, so I have clients I work with for that position. I also have freelance clients, where I might be creating a logo or a flyer for a business. This project is different because it’s a project that anyone can enjoy. It’s not for a specific company. Having a public art piece that anyone can enjoy, appreciate, and share is feels very special to me.

What’s been your journey as an artist?

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always loved to create. I asked for art supplies all the time. I got into writing in elementary school, then fashion, then photography. I’ve always loved being creative. Once I got to college, I decided I wanted to combine all of it and get a degree in Fashion Communication. I explored marketing, journalism, photography, graphic design, styling, art direction, and PR. I really gravitated toward design because it’s so free, fun, and expressive. I struggled with it a lot during my freshman year, but now I can’t imagine doing anything else.

What is the value of the arts in creating social change?

Art connects people. Art gives people a lens into a world that might exist outside of themselves. Art makes you stop and think. It kind of slows you down for a bit. Also, people can take so many different things from art, and we can find those differences and connect with each other. Art plays an important role in spreading awareness about issues. My hope is that there will be some little Black boy with his dad, his brother, or his class, and he can walk past Black Boy Joy and say, “that boy looks like me.” He can be happy and feel seen. Growing up as a Black girl, I didn’t always see myself represented that well in TV shows, media, or even toys. As you get older, it takes a toll on you to not see yourself represented. Fortunately, things are getting better with more Black creatives being uplifted and showing the world they exist. I want the next generation to feel seen. That’s important because it inspires them to do what they see. For example, seeing Serena Williams play tennis could spark a little Black girl to want to do that. It shows them that they can dream bigger and do whatever they want to do. 

Thank you, Khyneesha Edwards, for sharing more about your artwork and event!

To attend Black Boy Joy Yoga, RSVP Here: www.eventbrite.com/e/black-boy-joy-yoga For more information about Edwards’ artwork and the other artists featured this year,  visit www.artintheloop.com

Edwards is a graphic designer born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. She works full-time as a graphic designer for a Washington, D.C.-based digital marketing agency, takes on freelance clients, and offers career-consulting services with Resumes By Neesha. In addition to working full-time and freelancing, Khyneesha serves on the board for AIGA KC, where she’ll lead as President for the 2023-2024 term.

The 2023 Art in the Loop Project is made possible through the generous support of the KC Streetcar Authority, Henderson Engineers, Stinson LLP, and other corporate partners. This project is funded in part by the City of Kansas City, Missouri Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund, as well as by awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Missouri Arts Council, ArtsKC, and the Richard J. Stern Foundation for the Arts – Commerce Bank Trustee.

Project partners include the Downtown Council, Downtown Community Improvement Districts, KC Streetcar, and the Kansas City Art Institute.

For more information about the project and the artists, visit www.artintheloop.com or www.facebook.com/artintheloop

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Art in the Loop
Ann Holliday, Program Director, ann@downtownkc.org, (c) 816-718-1355
Marissa Starke, Visual Arts Director, marissastarke@gmail.com, (c) 816-519-4236
Jade Osborne, Performing Arts Director, jademuse@gmail.com

KC Streetcar
Donna Mandelbaum, Communications & Marketing Director, dmandelbaum@kcstreetcar.org, (c) 816-877-3219 

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