If you’ve partied with New York City’s Black queer community, chances are you’ve been to a Joe Morris Events production. These aren’t any run-of-the-mill affairs, Joseph Morris Bailey, who goes by his first two names, is dedicated to creating events that feel unapologetically Black and queer. These events span from block parties in Harlem to weekly “For the Culture” brunches on Saturdays and Sundays that are for the Black queer community, by the Black queer community. What initially started as a conversation between friends at brunch, turned into a flourishing empire, which includes Joe Morris Events, Rebellion Fitness, his personal training and nutrition business, and co-ownership of the restaurant Brunch Harlem, the only place in the NYC neighborhood to offer brunch six days a week.
INTO sat down with Morris to talk about what makes NYC’s Black queer nightlife so unique, how he cultivates community for Black queer people, and what to do if you’re looking for a nightlife community for the first time.
Joe Morris Events creates nightlife events, develops weekly functions, and, most importantly, fosters community for Black LGBTQ+ people. How did you first get started?
I started promoting in high school. I guess I have always leaned into being an entrepreneur. I was broke, I was popular, and I love to party. So I was like, “I’m going to start doing parties.” I used to charge my friends over at a local hall to come and have their juice, because we weren’t drinking back then. I then followed that recipe and started doing clubs in college underage, might I add, but you figure it out. After college, I started to hang out more in the city. A friend of mine and myself were at brunch and we started talking about how we could start doing events. I gave him the rundown of what I had done prior and the amount of money that you could make because it’s potentially quite lucrative. We had run through the city together often, and I’m like, “What could be more fun than making money partying with your friends and just curating events?”
So we started a brand called It Boys, and it was myself and one of my best friends, Chase Tucker. Chase and I had a run of five years, which we had a lot of fun with and we did parties in New York City and all over the United States. Then Chase broke up with me because he went back to grad school and he also was working full-time. So, I started my own business, Joe Morris Events. And it was an easy transition because there was a lot of traction from It Boy and, as I said, I have been doing it for a number of years.
When you’re creating these events, what are the three most important things that you keep in mind?
The customer experience is the most important thing. When I curate these events, I curate it for people that look like me, people that are interested in what I’m interested in, right? I got tired of going to the same events. It was hot boys and a DJ in a space. That’s where it started. That’s where it stopped. It’s not really an experience here. So I think the way that I set myself apart is really thinking about the customer experience and I think that it’s been my secret sauce. If they have a good experience, they’re going to talk about it and that’s the marketing.
Another thing is the music. If it’s hot as hell, if the venue sucks, if nobody is there, if the drinks are expensive, if all those other things are stacked against you and the music and the sound are proper, you’re good as sh*t. You don’t have to worry. It’s like people are going to have a good time. They may complain about whatever, but they’ll dance through it.
Then, last but not least, which would be just as important as the experience and adds to the experience, is my team. It’s not something that you’re able to do alone and you’re only as good as your team, getting people in these clubs efficiently. It’s really important to make sure that everyone is safe and also getting in as quickly as possible so that they are taking advantage of the money that they’re spending, essentially, in my spaces, which they could do anywhere, especially in New York City.
There’s power in art, culture, and community. WerQfest is leveraging all three in their festival dedicated to Black LGBTQ+ people.
What would you say to a Black queer person seeking community through nightlife for the first time?
Well, I think that’s a really good question. It’s a different beast because the girls are not always the nicest. However, I am very kind. So if you’re coming to one of my events for the first time, please pull me to the side, introduce yourself, and I will do my best to make sure that you have the best experience possible. I think that it’s really important to put out in the world what you want to give back.
I remember my first time, and I’ll never forget it. I wasn’t out yet, I went to the club, and my friend’s old lousy ass left me. I was standing at the wall and this beautiful guy, I know exactly who this guy is to this day and I had no idea who he was, he looked over at me and he saw me, probably pained in my face, and he talked to me for at least 45 minutes and I’ll never forget that. It really left an imprint on my life and it meant the world to me. So I create these spaces for that young person to have a space to build a community and find their tribe. I think that it’s really important to surround yourself with people that look like you, but also have similar interests. And I hope that I’m creating spaces where people are finding those spaces.
What do you think makes the Black queer community in New York City different from other Black queer communities across the nation?
I think what we go out for and the way that we party is just completely different, respective to each city. New York, we have everything at our grasp. We have any type of party you can think of on any given night. I think that when you go to Atlanta or Miami or L.A., you don’t really have the plethora of [options]. So you throw a party. It’s going to stick if you just follow a formula. In New York City, it’s The Hunger Games meets Game of Thrones. These b*tches are coming with their dragons, and you have to be on your sh*t. You have to be on top of your business and you have to be prepared to work. So to answer your question, I would say that the amount of limitless options that we have here differ and the way that you would promote [them]. You have to be very aggressive, early, often, and really make sure that these events are good and impactful so you can survive.
Recognizing that New York City’s Restaurant Week is here, why do you think it’s more important than ever to support Black queer restaurants, establishments, and businesses?
You know you know what, friend? I think that it’s our responsibility as Black queer to support people that look like us, that are creating spaces for us. Oftentimes I go to a bunch of different parties, a bunch of different restaurants in New York City, and a lot of times it’s our dollars not being poured into our communities, but we’re spending our dollars there. I think that it’s an opportunity for us to reshape the narrative so that the young queer person that you spoke to before has a space of refuge. They know that this is a space of love. It’s a space of care. It’s a place that is designed for me. It’s essentially why I do what I do. And I’m blessed to have the privilege to create these spaces for people that look like me because I want people to feel comfortable and at home and for the right reasons, not just to profit from our community.
Because if no one else is going to support us, we have to support us. And with us behind us, how can we lose? What does Ice Spice say? “How can I lose? If I’m already chose? Like…” That’s how the vibe is right there.
You know what? Put that in, the Ice Spice quote.
Finally, how can people find more information about all of your events?
Instagram is definitely the best. It’s just @joe_morris_events. That’s the best way to find upcoming events. Also programming at the restaurant.♦
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.