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Tasting Orange: Happiness the Best Clap Back; Using Joy to Build Community

"Joy is an act of resistance"-Poet Toi Derricotte

Joy is everywhere when we can take time to appreciate the blessings we have. Even in the worst of times, there is something to be thankful for. In a fast-paced world we must pause and take time to celebrate the big and small joys in our lives each and every day, if possible, a few times a day.

Joy is meant to be a journey to enjoy, not a destination we strive to reach one day in the future. I think I have learned this valuable lesson from many others who have struggled, but always found happiness.

I think of my Oma telling stories of surviving the Communist Revolution and being thankful even for cookies with no sugar.

I think of summer BBQ's with my best friend's father telling stories of Black folx sharecropping on the American dream, but always finding making the most of love in any circumstance often using art, dance and song to heal and still create contentment.

I think of classrooms full of children, putting the stress of academics on a time out and creating art, poetry and drumming together, our hearts full and our spirits hugged.

I think of Bettina Loves' book We Want to Do More Than Survive: how all "dark" children students, parents and staff deserve to chase their American dream with access, kindness and the same privileges white Americans possess. How schools often "spirit murder" dark children as their cultures are not centered, honored nor celebrated. How can we influence this unfair reality? How can we make schools a place of joy and learning?

In my home, we pause in the morning when we greet each other and say words of gratitude, and before meals, we take deep breathes and give thanks. We have also used this practice in restorative circles.

In my classroom, we also paused to give thankfulness in the morning, at snack, and before lunch. We also used these writing prompts to get to know each other and to celebrate joy. We connect to students' wisdom, talents and interests. We listen to parents and staff and show value to their values. We use conflict as a way to understand eacho thers' needs, goals and expression.

Reflective questions centered around joy:

Who or what brings you joy?

What are happy moments throughout an average day?

What is your favorite time of day? Why?

What are happy memories from childhood?

What does joy or happiness sounds, taste, smell, feel, and/or look like?

What songs bring you joy?

What makes you laugh?

What writing or drawing activity is the most fun to do? (I like to write bars and similes and exaggerate!) Do you like to rhyme? Make puns? Free write? Doodle? Copy inspiring quotes? Trace cartoon characters?

Spend time doing things that make you feel good doing them.

What brings joy to people around you?

What do you think brings plants joy? Tress? Animals?

Is joy the same for everyone?

A joy filled Game: below the Praise Slam lesson plan has been included to help bring joy into the classroom-it is also a fun way to build on skills for creative writing.

The Praise Slam Skit & Workshop

This came about when I was a teacher and travelling poet artist. I found students were very good at making similes and metaphors when making fun of or “ribbing/ roasting/flaming” each other, so we channeled that energy into positivity. I would begin with a restorative circle putting shared agreements into place, getting to know names, playing a game. Depending on the group, I might act out the following skit after asking for volunteers or recreate the game live if the players are more confident (or do both).

Before the game, we would generate a list of words by asking what is a descriptive word, a positive word you like to be called? One word for me that is “fresh” and my next choice would be “dignified”. We would make a list like this: fresh, smart, fly, amazing, intelligent, friendly, beautiful. We would then learn or recall how to find synonyms, either using a thesaurus or smart phone-each take different words then bring the new words back on note cards. I would use a poster or a handout to show all the things we can compare them to make a simile or metaphor along with some examples:

  • famous people,

  • occupations,

  • automobiles,

  • colors,

  • animals,

  • bodies of water,

  • titles of movies books,

  • songs,

  • objects found inside,

  • in nature or in sky,

  • animals,

insects-anything the world (have fun, be creative, be original)

· You are smarter than science class.

· You are brilliant as a summer sun at noon. (Point out how to add layers)

· You are so smooth; smoothies were named after you.

After I would model how to make similes, we would make similes as a group. Then we broke into teams to play the simile praise slam. I did find it was more fun for the participants to work together to write the compliments, then one player would share it instead of putting one person on the spot. After the game we would share how we felt and/or what lines from the skit stood out to them. After this praise slam lesson, we would expand the skill into writing odes (see following pages) Here is a fun script with examples we used.

Praise Slam Skit:

Roles for performance: Host 1, Host 2, Sign holder Fire, Sign holder water, Sign hold applause (1-3 people), The ding dinger

The game show music plays from laptop or have a beatboxer.

Lights go on, host & players are all out on the stage.

Applause signs go up, and audience give applause.

Host 1: Hey good people, welcome to 34th and Sparkle, I am your host DJ Orange Juice; and next to me is MC Pancake, we are happy to host our Hip Hop Praise Battle. In this competition 2 teams go head-to-head illuminating each other with compliments.

Host 2: Yassss! We will bring a player from each team, they will select a word, then have 10 seconds to write as many compliments as possible then the player with the loudest audience reactions will win that round. Let’s welcome our teams Fire and Water.

Host 1: Here we go, we need player one from each side. Fire player pick a word…..ok…Fly..we have our wonderful sign holders to assist

Team Fire Player 1 You’re so fly, you make birds jealous….your so fly you make air planes walk...your so fly the Wright Brothers got the idea of flying from you (ding ding)

Host 2: MAAAAAAAn, that’s WAS fly. Lets see what you got…

Water player 1, pick your first word….fresh

Team Water Player 1: You are so fresh, you make fall feel like spring… you are fresher than a new born baby (ding ding)

Host 1: Yeeees! Freshness, we are turnin up like tulips in spring, Our judges say Team water had the most applause….. Now I need player 2 from each side to face off….Fire Player 2 lets see what you got, your word is kind-(pass mic)

Team Fire player 2 Your so Kind you make a bully want to write thank you notes, , your so kind strangers feel comfortable in your presence your so kind wars stop and apologize(ding ding)

Host 2: wow, its getting hot as August on August in here…..Water player 2 it’s your turn, pick a word… lovely you go

Team Water player 2 You are as lovely as a new born puppy, under a summer sunset, you make us smile even on bad days; your as lovely as community supporting youth on a Thursday, coming to a show and embracing fuel and all of its possibilities (ding ding)

Host 1: very dope, love it….Judges say that round went to team Fire Choose a word… Brave (pass mic) Team Fire player 3 You are as brave as time, like hands on a clock you keep going and could never be stopped. As Brave as Dr. King Jr.’s Dream, standing for what you believe, like the love felt in home cooked meals, as brave as single parents working 3 jobs to pay the bills, (ding ding) Host 2. It’s getting serious. Water Player 3, You’re word is courageous (pass mic) Team Water player 3 You are courageous as a smile on picture day, refusing to back down or go away, as courageous as Ruby Bridges who fought barriers to break segregation despite ridicule, she held her head up day after day (ding ding)

Host 1: that was creative…..and the judges say it’s a tie, How can we pick a winner? Host 2 Well, with positivity everyone wins….

Host 1 That’s right, you aaaaall win a braaaaaaaaaand neeeeeeeew……………………………………………c, c,c ………compliment!!!!!!! (Teams get excited)

Host 2 (look at team water): You all shine brighter than the glow of 500 iphones, Host 1 (look at team fire) you are so bright the sun gets jealous. We’d like to thank all our players…remember compliments makes us all better and why tear others down, when you can use words to uplift, being positive is a gift!


A poem with a sunrise over water: immaculate dream, endless light
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