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West Dayton Stories is a community-based story-telling project centered on the people and places of Dayton’s vibrant west side. WYSO brings together community producers to tell stories reflecting its proud history, current complexities, and future hopes.

West Dayton Stories: Spirit, Pride And Black Joy

Omope Carter Daboiku
courtesy of Omope Carter Daboiku

We’re exploring Black Joy on West Dayton Stories, and this week community producer Omopé Carter-Daboiku, known to many as Mama O, tells of a lifetime of dipping into that deep well of spirit and pride.

As a child I was taught that joy expressed externally, except church or a sporting event, was pretentious and dangerous. Anyone who despised you would steal your joy: take your body without your permission, sell or hospitalize your child, put you in debt and steal your land, or just plain whip you for smiling and skipping.

However, I suspect those kidnapped Africans experienced some sense of joy when finally reaching land and were not eaten by the oyinbo ghost people; and, I’m sure the end of slavery brought great joy to some.

I confess, I did experience joy and smug satisfaction when my teacher said that Colored people had no culture. She was either lying, ignorant, or both, because I was filled with the stories my ancestors told about “how we got over” and had kept songs, recipes, and traditions alive for nine generations. I knew where I came from, what my people valued, and the high expectations they held of me.

So, joy was coming home with an honorable report card, getting stars on piano practice pages, catching crawdads and minnows in the creek at camp, learning to manage my own hair, wearing the charm bracelet that showed my music ability and honors.

Joy was finishing college, being acknowledged as a professional storyteller, using that talent to raise two children, alone, and seeing them fledge to careers that support them; that makes my heart swell.

Despite scar-filled, heavy generational trauma, now, in this body that some call Black, I revel in joy every morning. I joyfully rise and go to the Edgemont Solar Garden where I share the agricultural knowledge that let my families thrive, not just survive. I relish sharing those skills with younger folk and fellow Boomers who grew up on concrete. I’m joyful that I’ve lived longer than my mother, that my 92-year-old father can now say “I love you.” Each time I hear him say so, I am reminded that I can give myself permission to express the joy of overcoming adversity, outrunning stereotypes, and coming into the fullness of myself as artist, advocate, and scholar.

West Dayton Stories is produced by Jocelyn Robinson at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices and is supported by CityWide Development Corporation.

Known affectionately as Mama O, Omope Carter Daboiku is a 2012 migrant to the Miami Valley. Originally from Ironton, in southern Ohio, she identifies as an Appalachian of mixed ancestry. Trained as a cultural geographer, Mama O has 30 years of experience as an international performance artist, educator, and published writer. The founder of the local Dunbar Literary Circle, her storytelling is included in Dayton Metro Library’s new Dial-a-Story service, and she’s working with arts education ally, Muse Machine, to produce writing and theater resources for virtual learning.
Jocelyn Robinson is a Yellow Springs, Ohio-based educator, media producer, and radio preservationist.