We're all familiar with pain, but few groups are as intimate with it as Black people. This pain — and close relationship with oppression — hovers over our lives, especially in a time when law enforcement is systematically slaughtering our children. However, a compelling Instagram project is reminding Black folks that finding and hoarding joy is important, too.

It's called #TheBlackJoyProject, conceived by writer and dreamer Kleaver Cruz. The 27-year-old activist started photographing fellow activists, writers, and other dope Black folks about six months ago, asking them one question: How do you define Black joy?

"Choosing to enjoy yourself is actually resistance," the New York-resident explained. "If we're existing in a world that tells us we shouldn't be good enough, enjoying our lives in spite of that is an act of resistance." 

He came to this conclusion a few days after Thanksgiving when he woke up feeling burdened and heavy. He realized his activist work and some personal matters had taken a toll on him emotionally and physically.

"I felt really heavy. I couldn't move. I was laying there like why I am feeling so heavy?" Cruz told Revelist about that moment of awakening. "I started to really think about what was going on inside of me."

Cruz realized that his work with New York City's Black Lives Matter chapter — including participating in demonstrations — were impacting on him. 

"I began being honest with myself," he said. "I was internalizing this work in a way that was painful. It’s painful to be Black and queer in this world, and in this country."

After seeing a photo of his mom that he'd taken in early November, Cruz decided to take action by centering joy in his life — and encouraging others in his community to do the same.

"I started thinking about what can I do? I'm really solutions-oriented," Cruz explained. "And I saw a picture I took of my mom about a year before. She was smiling and she loved that piece of art. It made me happy. I put it up and put up joy as a form of resistance as the caption."

He soon birthed #TheBlackJoyProject after realizing joy is "a part of the fuel to keep going" while facing crushing discrimination. "I told myself I would do a challenge of posting photos of joy, for myself and the community I'm apart of," the New York-resident said.

While Cruz's project is innovative, he makes it clear that he didn't invent the concept of Black joy.

"I didn't invent Black joy. It has existed throughout history," Cruz explained. "There are tons of examples of this... [#TheBlackJoyProject] is about shining a light on it and giving people permission to enjoy it."

So far, he's taken more than 100 photographs — and all have different interpretations of Black joy.

"Now, that I've interviewed 90 people, they all have 90 different answers. So, the community has multiple ways of defining [Black joy]." 

Joy, for Cruz, shows up in myriad ways. Working on this project brings him happiness, as does seeing how other people manifest joy.

Cruz believes that even when things are bad, it's OK to feel joy. In fact, it's necessary.

"It’s imperative for organizers and activists to carve out space for joy," Cruz explained. "Sometimes, it’s just around checking in and having contagious laughter. It doesn’t always have to be a grand scale. It could be sending each other a funny meme."

However, Cruz sometimes returns to one special memory as he embarks on this project:

"I thought about going to Ferguson after Mike Brown died in 2014, and going to a huge barbecue in a parking lot. People were dancing and eating hot dogs," Cruz said. "One doesn't contradict the other. We do need moments where we can enjoy our lives. We need that. That is a part of the fuel to keep going."

Above all else, #TheBlackJoyProject is about celebrating Black humanity.

"It is a human right for us to enjoy our lives. [#TheBlackJoyProject] is saying 'I will live, and a part of living is enjoying my life,'" Cruz perfectly explained.

And this project beautifully explores that, and reminds us all that striving for happiness should be a universal goal, but it's especially important for Black folks: