Every day saddening news of prejudice, crime, sickness, and hate are easy to find and even thrown in our faces. In a world where it’s hard to find moments of joy and positivity, Project Happyvism uses multiple ways to create smiles.
Happyvism is “a project centered on choosing joy and self-love as a radical form of activism.” Joy isn’t often used when describing activism.
“Happyvism is taking the time to intentionally examine and understand and embrace the necessity of joy,” said Ryan Parker, co-creator of Project Happyvism. “It often overlooked or drowned out by counter-narrative that is drama and trauma filled.”
Parker is an educator in Manchester Public Schools. He created the project with his friend, Manchester native and educator Justis Lopez.
“It’s really birthed in love. Sustain joy and self-love for marginalized communities, particularly the black and brown community, to just say, ‘Hey, you are beautiful. Your skin is beautiful. Your curly hair is beautiful. You are beautiful. Your identity is beautiful,’” said Lopez as he showed off his head of curls.
Project Happyvism is a song, music video, children’s book, and growing movement but started as two friends listening to music in the car.
Happyvism grew from an instrumental Parker and Lopes listened to as they drove back to Connecticut from the 2019 Hip Hop Ed Conference at Columbia University. They felt a good vibe and began to freestyle lyrics: I’m feelin’ so happy/I’m feeling’ so happy/I’m just feelin’ so happy.
“It as a positive mantra,” Lopez said. “Parker wrote his verse and told me to just write what brings me joy.”
Those familiar with Manchester will recognize Charter Oak Park as the scene for song’s music video. Lopez and Parker received positive feedback from many. Not only did people of all ages enjoy the song, the loved its meaning.
The message includes conversations about race and ethnicity, gender inclusion, and sexual orientation. Important conversations around loving your differences and respecting the differences in others which led to the children’s book, Happyvism: A Story About Choosing Joy.
The educating duo said they want to make learning fun while closing literacy gaps among young students. The book was published locally by Lauren Simone Publishing House and illustrated by student Siara Chanterelle.
The main characters in the book are the authors, Ryan Parker and Justis Lopez. They acknowledge their ethnicities of being Hispanic and biracial, respectively. The book tells their journeys to self-love, celebrating what makes them unique, and navigating through negativity.
Parker was excited to announce that the book will be in the Manchester School District’s curriculum as a part of the Race & Equity Read Aloud project that he is developing. The four units include Identity, Diversity, Justice, and Action. The book Happyvism will be included in Action.
Lines from the book include, “People throw fists, we chose hugs,” and “I love my hair curly when I wear it all out. I put a handful of Cantu in my hair it gives really nice bounce.”
“I’m choosing to hold on to my joy,” Parker said.
Happyvism chooses joy but also acknowledges the real emotions of sadness and anger.
“The bad things exists. The racism exists. The turmoil exists. The white supremacy exists. But we are refusing to let that kill our joy because our joy and our brilliance,” Parker said. “We are choosing joy as a form of resistance.”
The authors found the project therapeutic. Their friendship grew closer as they took mental refuge in the project to escape the ongoing news of police shooting of black people in the United States and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You cannot kill my joy. We will not die. You can keep shooting, you can keep kneeling on our necks, you can keep pulling us over for our air fresheners, keep doing whatever you want,” Parker said. “You cannot kill us all. Our legacy will live on.”
Parker and Lopez have ran Happyvism workshops and plan to bring Project Happyvism along with their joyous spirits to the Town of Manchester’s Juneteenth celebration in June.
To learn more about Project Happyvism, purchase the children’s book, listen to the song, and watch the video, visit www.projecthappyvism.com.