“For Too Long We Have Had to Justify Our Existence:” An interview with Joie St. Hubert
Updated: Jan 19
The first time I met Joie St. Huebert I heard them sing. I could hear this gentle power in their voice; a delicate, captivating display of balance, insight, and strength. I always admired them for both their artistry and their honesty- boundless instruments of change, inspiration, and love. In the years since they left high school behind, Joie has taken those strengths to the front lines of the Black Lives Matter movement; utilizing their immeasurable gift for passion to organize a peaceful march at Roosevelt Island.
That being said, I am not just writing this article to hype up my friend, although they are an amazing person. I want to use this opportunity to call attention to the fact that the POC children and teenagers of NYC live in a place where the color of their skin obstructs their opportunities to eat, to have a good education, to seek healthcare, and to live their lives without fear that the wrong interaction with the wrong cop could cost them their lives. Though it pains me to see so much violence and injustice, I understand that the grief, anger, and exhaustion within the black community runs so much deeper.
Joie and the other young people of New York are tired. They are angry and hurt that they must fear a system designed to serve and protect them if they are to survive. In the heat of George Floyd’s death, many young people have mobilized and taken to the streets. It only took Joie 48 hours to inspire 500 New Yorkers to gather, share their stories, and tell the world that enough is enough.
Photo: Amina Ford
What can you tell me about the process of organizing this event? What was the chronology of events?
This event was organized in just 48 hours, so I felt a lot of pressure. I put flyers under every single door of my building, and on the front doors of other buildings. I had countless meetings with the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) and the Public Safety Department (PSD) to map out our route. The night before, I met with a few friends to make posters and talk out the itinerary. There was so much anxiety and excitement in the air.
I noticed there was a lot of room for people to share their truth. How were you able to create a space where everybody could be heard? Were there any challenges to that?
After I spoke, numerous people started coming up to me and asking if they could say a few words. I really appreciated that people felt so inspired to share their truths. As moving as this was, there were a few challenges. I opened the platform to mainly POC, but some white people came up to me and asked to speak. I respectfully told them that my platform was only open to POC. One man argued with me and caused a scene, but we kept going.
We hear so much about the protests in the context of systemic reform on the national scale, but what was the message of the protest that was specific to Roosevelt Island?
My main goal was to bring my small community together to fight for what is right. On Roosevelt Island, we have a number of elderly people who might be wary of going into the city because of the pandemic, so this was a way to gather in solidarity and remember.
You are a musician and a singer who has taken on a new path of activism. What changes do you want to see in music culture and the language of music as it pertains to POC artists?
Personally, I would like to see a more widespread representation of POC musicians and artists across the board. We always learn about Bach and Mozart, but we never learn about Florence Price and Margaret Bonds. We need to educate our younger children about the black pioneers of education and art.
For the people who have not been to protests yet, what should they expect?
The march on Roosevelt Island was very different from the protests that have been happening in Manhattan. While ours was entirely peaceful, the protests in Manhattan have gotten violent with the NYPD. We had NYPD on Roosevelt Island, but everything went smoothly. If you are going to protests, be sure to cover your entire body (piercings and tattoos), plan ahead and know what to expect. Film or write down any police brutality incidents.
What tips do you have for other young people who want to organize events in their communities?
Make sure you expand and use your network! Don’t be afraid to make connections with new people and talk to people you haven’t talked to in a while. Make sure you communicate often and clearly. Accept feedback generously and make sure you have a clear vision. Use your voice to take responsibility and drive change.
What are your next plans?
As of right now, I’m meeting with a number of different people to discuss further plans. There is an emotional toll that activism can take on someone, and it has hit me hard. Because of that, I am trying to lay low right now and take care of my mental health. I have to take care of myself right now so that I can put my further plans into action.
Joie’s instagram is @baby.joie_
Catch their full speech here: