The Pittsburgh Foundation

Emmai Alaquiva

Emmai Alaquava, image by Matt Metrovich
Emmai Alaquava, image by Matt Metrovich

2023 grant amount:  $50,000 over two years

This grant will support "OPTICVOICES: Mama's Boys" (OVMB) - a visual arts and augmented reality project and exhibit, with an accompanying short film, curated to tell the solemn and riveting stories of Black mothers who are finding joy, relief and wisdom in their healing journeys despite devastating obstacles that they have had to overcome with strength, resilience and compassion. 

The mothers involved in the project are those mothers whose sons have been victim to systemic racial violence: Sybrina Fulton (Mama of the late Trayvon Martin), Michelle Kenney (Mama of the late Antwon Rose II), Lezley McFadden (Mama of the late Mike Brown), Gwen Carr (Mama of the late Eric Garner), Valerie Castile (Mama of the late Philando Castile), Rev. Wanda Johnson (Mama of the late Oscar Grant), Samaria Rice (Mama of the late Tamir Rice), Wanda Cooper-Jones (Mama of the late Ahmaud Arbery), Allison Jean (Mama of the late Botham Jean) and LaToyna Green (Mama of activist Leon Ford). There is also a moving component of the exhibit (an ode in memoriam) to the late Mamie Till (Mama of the late Emmett Till).

Countering the negative portrayals that often flood the media and people's perspectives, this art project, which includes strong aspects of photojournalism, OVMB creates a safe space for these mothers to tell open and honest stories about how they cope. Unfortunately, after the media storm and initial outpouring of attention wanes, Black mothers are left alone to heal by themselves. OVMB opens this cathartic healing process.

The title "OPTICVOICES: Mama's Boys" recaptures the meaning of "mama's boy," a phrase intentionally meant to mock the loving and purposeful relationship between a mother and her son. This project adds significance and dignity to mothers by allowing them the space to be vulnerable and show their sons in ways that only the intimate ways a mother would know about her child.