Portraits of African-American mothers and sons declare ‘My Son Matters’

3 minute read
Photographer Denise Allen and her son, Jordan. Photo by Denise Allen.
Photographer Denise Allen and her son, Jordan. Photo by Denise Allen.

Photographer Denise Allen is an African-American single mother, who has always taught her son to be respectful and do what’s right. “Now I realize that I also have to teach my son how to survive in a world where he will be treated differently because of the color of his skin,” she said. Because of that, she was inspired to create her “My Son Matters" photography series, to honor young men of color and their mothers. More than 30 of her portraits are displayed through May 31 at Mt. Airy Art Garage.

“In light of the events of Ferguson and South Carolina, and based on the quality of Denise’s work and the heart she puts into it, we felt it our responsibility to share her vision,” said Mt. Airy Art Garage president and cofounder Linda Slodki. “This is the first time we have mounted an exhibition specific to Mother’s Day. We have the ability to speak for all mothers.”

Don’t wait for tragedy to strike

Allen, the adoptive mother of Jordan, 15, previously did an exhibit of young black men in hoodies after Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida while wearing one. That tragedy opened her eyes and inspired her to show that the boys, who enjoy activities like choir, their jobs, and tutoring others, shouldn’t be judged for their clothes or skin color.

“My Son Matters” is a reaction to the fact that more and more murders occur, she said, and when they do, the media asks moms to comment on their deceased children. She decided there’s no reason to wait until children are killed for the world to discover who they are.

Vashti DuBois and her son, DuBois Ellington Stewart, 16, were photographed together for the first time since her husband Al’s death in a car accident a year ago.

“We know how difficult it is to lose someone you love suddenly and violently,” she said. For that reason, “my heart breaks every time I see a mom crying over the death of her child on the evening news. We are not supposed to outlive our children.”

Everyone is at risk

DuBois is like millions of other mothers, she said. “I love my two sons, my daughter, my grandson….because they are funny and great and talented and good people who are already making this world a better place because they are here,” she said. “I want the world to know that our children have families and friends, dreams, passions. When something happens to one child, it happens to a community.”

DuBois hopes the exhibit will start a conversation about creating change. “We are fighting for our humanity as a country,” she said. We’re doomed “if we do not understand that if any child is at risk, all children are at risk.”

Allen also hopes for dialogue and that her photos show the reality beneath the skin’s surface — they are mothers with their sons, the children they love deeply. “Our sons are just as important as anyone else’s.”

See “My Son Matters” at Mt. Airy Art Garage, 11 W. Mt. Airy Avenue, Philadelphia, through May 31. The opening reception will be Friday, April 17 at 6pm. Regular gallery hours are Wednesday and Friday from noon to 7pm, Thursday and Saturday from noon to 6pm, and Sunday from noon to 5pm.

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