Center for Black Church Studies Short Course

August 17, 19, and 21

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Defiant Joy: A Storytelling and Dramatization Course on Joy Embodied in Blackness


What kind of joy causes one to smile and laugh despite the fact that circumstances tell them to wallow in despair? That is a common question many Black people from around the world are often asked. Dr. Imani Perry, scholar and professor of African American studies at Princeton University, has the proper response. In "Racism Is Terrible. Blackness Is Not.," an article published by The Atlantic in June, Perry wrote, “Blackness is an immense and defiant joy.” The joy that is embodied in Black people is defiant. Taking that idea a step further, biblical joy is also defiant. Biblical joy is God-given, it does not hinge on circumstances around us but rather, it is an outpouring of gladness and fortitude that God gives to those who place their trust in the word of God. In other words, the more we embrace God’s word, the more we also embody defiant joy. This was the wisdom of our ancestors, who sang song lyrics like, “This joy that I have, the world didn't give it to me. The world didn’t give it and the world can’t take it away.” This is also why Ezra, in Nehemiah 8:10, states, “the Joy of the Lord is our strength.” The truth is, however, as wonderful as singing is, it was not the only way our ancestors embodied defiant joy. Two of the most powerful avenues in which Black people, past and present, use to express defiant joy are storytelling and dramatizations.

Using storytelling and theatre techniques rooted in African/African American culture, this three-day workshop centers on acknowledging, celebrating, and commemorating the various ways in which Black people all around the world express defiant joy despite death, trauma, and drama. We invite you to dig deep into the well of our ancestors as we center defiant joy in the following three areas:

Monday, August 17, 4:00–6:00 p.m. EDT
Defiant Joy in Black Culture

Participants will reflect on cultural ways in which joy is observed and/or experienced despite the death of Black bodies now and before the pandemic and current racial unrest (e.g., music, dance, rituals, community).

Wednesday, August 19, 4:00–6:00 p.m. EDT
Defiant Joy in Black Childhood

Participants will reflect on their childhood and experiences of joy despite the trauma faced as a result of society’s denial of Black children and of their childhood.

Friday, August 21, 4:00–6:00 p.m. EDT
Defiant Joy in Black Congregations

Participants will reflect on joy within their congregations before and after the pandemic and current racial unrest.

In each session, participants will be equipped with the skills and techniques of theatre and storytelling that can be used at home, online, and within your own congregations. Note that each session of this short course builds on the other and enrollees should plan to attend all three workshops.


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Dontá McGilvery is a PhD Theatre for Youth & Communities student at Arizona State University (ASU), a scholar-activist, a teaching artist, and an ordained minister. His primary focus is to continue using theatre as a tool for liberation. His research focuses on decentering white supremacy in theatre programs in higher education and amplifying the voices and theatrical contributions of Black scholars and practitioners.

McGilvery has received several prestigious awards and recognition at ASU, including the 2019 ASU Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Student Servant-Leadership Award and 2019 recognition as an ASU "Changemaker." Most recently, McGilvery was a keynote speaker at the American Alliance for Theatre Education conference (AATE), a national theatre conference where he shared his experiences and expertise on issues of narrative and representation, community engagement, and dismantling white supremacy in our institutions.

McGilvery is a co-founder/co-artistic director of Sleeveless Acts, a drama company whose mission is to join communities to co-create theatre with radical imagination. He holds degrees from the University of North Texas, Southern Methodist University, and Aspen Christian College & Seminary. During the 2020-2021 academic year, McGilvery will assume the role of Dean's Fellow and Coordinator for Culture and Access in the Herberger Institute at Arizona State University.

Cost and Registration

Cost: $75 for short course
BTLI fellows can use a promotional code. Please inquire about the promotional code at [email protected].

Registration is open until 1 p.m. EDT on 8/17.


Educating faithful Christian leaders.

Author, Speaker, Ordained Minister

Danielle Shroyer, Class of 1999

“To be in a community where I got to hear so many different perspectives—that was profound for me. I’m grateful for the curiosity, for the practice of learning that was cultivated for me at Seminary.”