Black Joy by Kayla Mensah

Black History Month has always felt a bit trite to me. But not this year. Fresh off the heels of one of the most exhausting and terrifying years in recent history, this February held more meaning. 

Like many people, I’ve watched with equal parts glee and dismay as most tiers of the beverage industry have finally been held accountable for their shortcomings. Glee because, well, it's about damn time. And dismay because while I’ve loved seeing more BIPOC get the light they deserve, the coverage and storytelling has been lackluster at best.
Even though these narratives are supposed to be uplifting, more often than not I’ve felt enraged. Not only by the horrors that seem to be baked (or fermented, as it were) into the fabric of our industry, but by the portrayal of Black trauma as a ‘teachable moment.’ Too often the stories of Black people in wine (and most other industries) are shrouded in a veil of suffering. The wine industry expects us to recount our experiences of racism in excruciating detail as proof that it's real. It seems like our strength and success are never measured by what we have accomplished, but rather by how much we've endured to get there. 

And honestly? Fuck that. We are vibrant. We are more than our collective or individual misery and more than atrophied attempts at “Diversity and Inclusion." This year, I want to see different stories. Ones that recognize us as we are: fully-formed professionals and people who can gather strength from so much more than our pain or conflict. Community. Family. Creativity. JOY. These are parts of us and parts of our stories that never see the light of day. 

This isn’t a new concept. Throughout the summer, #blackjoy was trending all over Instagram and even received coverage in Vogue. Images of our happiness as resistance took over the conversation. That lasted about two weeks, so I’m bringing it here, to our small but mighty part of the wine world. 

Personally, living my life out loud and in pursuit of my own purpose and happiness was a radical act in every sense of the word. My journey into wine wasn’t a traditional one. Chasing success in this world required me to change cities, abandon a career, and completely readjust my life and expectations. All necessary and worthy sacrifices for those moments of soul-expanding happiness. For the first sip of a wildly unknown wine, for smells that take me back to childhood memories and feel like sunshine, for the thrill of giving someone a bottle that you just KNOW they’ll love. 

Stepping into my role as a wine professional was my inaugural spring day after a long, dim winter. It quite literally felt like coming home. It’s a feeling that I relish in unabashedly, because I have lost time to reclaim. Not just mine, but the time of everyone throughout history who looked like me and dreamt of doing the same. 

Thanks to a transcendent presentation by Cha McCoy, I was reminded that the first hands to conduct ‘wine service’ as we know it in the U.S. were Black hands. We can assume that there was little joy to be found in this work at the time, but I will always prioritize joy in mine. 

However, finding and expressing joy isn’t just reduced to our work. For some balance, and a glimpse into the quiet corners of our lives that you don’t often see, I asked some coworkers to describe a personal moment of joy.

-Kayla Mensah

“I’ve found an immense amount of joy trying to create something both beautiful and useful. In a lot of ways, I’ve become a carbon copy of my mom; nothing comes before my plants. They surround the house, there is always something green to look at. There is a fantastic calm to every trip around the house.”
-Eric Moorer
I started taking piano classes at about eleven or twelve. The decision was largely out of my hands and I’ve never been particularly good, or developed any signs of what could be considered prodigiousness or natural talent. For a very long time, it was just something I did along the lines of homework or sports. But a combination of this instrument and the music that inspires me have made the piano one of my life projects and this scene (minus the Hanon) one of my most idyllic and jovial. This objectively terrible piano that I found on the street is my first acoustic piano and undoubtedly my most precious and sentimental possession. It’s taught me more about making music than any teacher, song, or exercise and inspires and challenges me every time I see it. Everyone knows that practicing is kind of terrible – self-critical, emotionally taxing, monotonous – but it also represents one of the only opportunities for me to be totally free and connect with the musical traditions I admire and that always fill me with joy.
"What brings me joy? I really had to think, but it all boils down to one thing: creating. I love to craft and make things with my hands. My family swears I was born holding glue and glitter."
-Anisah Baylor