This question stays top of mind for me. A joyful community is at the core of Seattle Foundation’s vision as we strive for shared prosperity, belonging and justice in the region.

I’ve also been reflecting on a joyful community due to an experience hosted by NationSwell. In March, I joined a gathering of corporate and philanthropy leaders in Montgomery, Alabama to reflect on the civil rights movement and the journey towards justice in the United States.

I have history with the south, as a part of my family has roots in Mississippi. Walking around Montgomery somehow felt like being home again with people and a culture so familiar to me. It also brought me proximate to the places – like the Bricklayers Hall which served as the headquarters for the Montgomery bus boycott – that were important meeting grounds for the civil rights and social justice gains that we are fighting to protect today.

While in Montgomery, we toured the Legacy Museum, created by Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative. As I walked through the exhibits, I reflected on the lasting impact of the institution of slavery in this country – Jim Crow laws, school segregation, redlining, the criminal justice system, and so on. As I exited, there was a quote that summed up the museum’s purpose and commitment to justice – that the children’s children of those who endured these times, could one day live unburdened by the legacy of slavery.

That struck me – to live unburdened by the legacy of slavery. My time in Montgomery invited reflection on that legacy in my own life.

My paternal grandfather came to Cleveland from St. Louis when he was a young man. He and my grandmother settled in the City of East Cleveland, a predominantly Black community, and invested in real estate to ensure no one in the family would ever go without a home. Not too long ago, out of curiosity, I asked my aunt what prompted my grandfather’s move to Cleveland. Her response – a group of white men threatened to kill him. He was fleeing for his life.

My maternal grandfather was a farmer in a small town in Mississippi. It’s where my mom was born, raised, and learned to work on a farm. I remember spending a few summers on that land. I was also aware that my grandparents likely did not own the land on which they lived and raised their children and some grandchildren. And discussing why was not a conversation that the elders in my family openly had.

In 1989 when I was six years old, my mom married an incredible guy who became my bonus dad. His name was Eddie. He was funny and quirky. He was also white. In three states in this country from the 1980s, 1990s, and as late as 2000, my parents could have been jailed because of the illegal nature of their interracial relationship.

At 41 years old, I hold this history and memory in my body that is defined by the impacts of slavery, white supremacy, and institutional racism. What would it feel like to be unburdened by this?

I believe it would feel like joy.

Joy has been at the center of my work for some time now because it is a way to bring people together. Regardless of lived experience or status, joy evokes a certain feeling, even a sound. Through joy, we find warmth, laughter and belonging. For some, joy is rooted deeply in faith; and in it, we find strength. Joy is something that no one can take away from us. For others, joy is an act of resistance (as first coined by poet Toi Derricote), and liberation. We have the right to exist and to be free.

We all deserve access to a safe home, connection and belonging, and resources to live our best lives. We also deserve to live in communities unburdened by racism, othering, discrimination, and violence. These are all building blocks to a joyful community.

So, how do we get there?

A part of the solution is for all of us to do better in valuing and honoring the humanity of our neighbors who are different from us. The other part – and this is critical – is meaningful, equitable, and sustained policy and systems change. The burden and legacy of slavery is clearly found in systems and policies that were designed for only some to succeed. To realize a joyful community of shared prosperity and belonging, we must change that.

Seattle Foundation recently completed a strategic plan outlining the work we will do over the next three years to move towards making the vision of a joyful community a reality. We will make bold moves in innovative financing for affordable housing production, climate justice, and increased access to make childcare more equitable. Throughout our grantmaking and advocacy, we will remain committed to racial equity and justice, community organizing, and policy reform. We’ll remain steadfast on this journey until every individual has true agency and power over the direction of their lives and systems are not barriers to their success.

The path ahead will be difficult but I will not be deterred because I know what I’m after – joy. Not just for me, but for generations to come. Generations of babies that will one day grow and thrive as adults whose experiences are not altered by the impacts of systems that have failed to serve them. Future adults who will be able to move through this world without fear, with true freedom, and full of joy.