I’ve always found it endearing the way men pay homage to the mothers and matriarchs in their lives. We love songs like Tupac’s Dear Mama” and Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands.” We witness the robust relationship between Kanye West and his late mother, Donda, who was undoubtedly his biggest fan, in the documentary Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy. We heard the gut-wrenching cries of George Floyd calling out for his mother moments before his death in 2020.
Black motherhood has often been centered in the analysis of the Black family — and for Black men, the maternal connection is vital, political and liberating. These affirmations are dedicated to women whose labor and love are far-reaching and priceless. The vocal appreciation is always welcomed, especially when the work of mothers has often been overlooked.
“My mother is a force of nature. If she wants to get something done, it’s getting done. I think that’s been pretty evident in the course of her journey,” said Sulaiman Rashid, a 20-year-old college student in Washington, DC, whose mother raised four kids. “My siblings and I have different career paths, but we are all grounded in the desire to create change, and that stems from my mom’s passion to help and to serve others and to aid in the betterment of the world.”
I wanted to explore the relationships between sons and their mothers. In this series of portraits, I photographed families and asked the sons to share some perspectives of the role their mothers had in their lives. From guidance on love, career and education to artistic inspiration and global travel, we see an expansive view of the strong bonds between Black sons and their mothers.
Sons: Christopher and Charles Tarpley
My mother, commonly known as Lady D, is a resilient and confident mother. She has a jazzy personality and is a strong woman of faith. She raised my brother and I to become the gentlemen we are today. – Charles
My mother’s favourite saying is “I’m gonna tell you what God loves ... the truth.” This is what I admire about my mother the most, her love of God. She has such a strong will to never give up no matter how tough things may be raising twins. – Chris
Sons: Yaseen Ellison and Mujahid Ellison
My mother has always been a source of light in my life. Across time and space – from my earliest memories in the US to years later and continents away – this has rung true. The continuum of joy and love surrounding my mother could not be summarised by a discrete moment. How would I describe my mother, who first showed me the magic and vibrancy of life? Who taught me firm confidence in my ability to grow, adapt, achieve and inspire?
I realise I don’t have to isolate any single experience to highlight who she is when everyone who encounters her is liberated by her grace and kindness, and when all spaces she walks through are automatically elevated by her presence. It is no wonder Allah says heaven lies at the feet of the mothers. I love you, Mom. – Yaseen
When I think of my mother, my thoughts often associate her with the moon. Her radiant, smiling face is akin to the light of the moon on a clear night sky. Her sound judgment and listening ear have served as a therapy to the many problems I’ve come to her with over the years. Her belief and willingness to lend a helping hand to me, unwavering, in times when I felt all was lost. Time after time, failure after failure, my mother has always been by my side. The best person to have around when sharing good news, as her pure, bona fide joy for you can be experienced by anyone who has interacted with her. The funny thing is my mother has taught me virtually everything I need to survive and thrive on my own, but hates it when I’m not around. There’s no better feeling than being capable of being alone but still having someone who never wants you to be alone. She’s my light and my guidance; my mother is my moon. I love you, Mom. – Mujahid
Son: Bilal Hassan
Ummi is very special to me; she means the world to me. She is my friend, travel buddy and confidant. I love being around her. She raised me into the young man that I am today. She is generous, caring, loving and not afraid to speak her mind. She was literally my first teacher. I was homeschooled from kindergarten to sixth grade by her and my father, who has since passed away. Back then, we didn’t have all of the home-schooling resources that exist today. Now, homeschooling is this big thing with programmes that you can do online. She created an amazing curriculum for us. She was extremely resourceful in making sure that we had an optimal learning experience. We did so much with very little. We had so much fun on our extended learning library trips. She is a genius. I could never repay her for how much she has poured into me. – Bilal
Son: Sulaiman Rashid
My mother is a force of nature. If she wants to get something done, it’s getting done. I think that’s been pretty evident in the course of her journey. My siblings and I have different career paths, but we are all grounded in the desire to create change, and that stems from my mom’s passion to help and to serve others and to aid in the betterment of the world. I love her because she gave that to me. I can’t describe all the ways and reasons why I love her. As I grow into a man, I hope that my need for her doesn’t wane or fade. When I was younger, I needed her to read me bedtime stories, and what I need from her now is guidance in selecting a companion and partner. She did a really great job, and I’d be very blessed to find someone like her. I’m grateful to her every single day for who she is as a mother, wife and a person. – Sulaiman
Adama Delphine Fawundu
Sons: Amal Buford, Kofi Buford and Che Buford (not pictured)
My mom set the standard and laid the foundation. She’s always been so driven and always accomplishes what she sets her mind to. There are so many roles that a mother can fulfil: a provider, a protector, a friend, an inspiration. She does it all. Some of my most fond memories are of us getting up really early and riding the subway to school. Even though it was the crowded subway, it felt like just us; it was so warm. We would have some of the best conversations. We would talk about anything and everything. We would read together; we would do math problems together. I love thinking about those times. It makes me nostalgic. You don’t realise how important that is, and I don’t ever want to take that for granted. It’s never been a question as to whether my brothers and I were her priority. She would drop us off and then have to go work her own job. It’s a job within a job. I’m older and I live on my own; I’m independent, but my mother is still my biggest inspiration. – Amal
My mother introduced me to so much. The knowledge and experiences that she imparted on me shattered the limitations that would otherwise be present in my life. It’s the reason why my creativity flourishes. We’ve traveled together. She took me to Sierra Leone, New Orleans, Phoenix, so many places. When we travel, we have fun, but we also learn about the land, the monuments, the historical connections. Our travels showed me the beauty of different cultures and that there are many ways of living. I love my mother. She always supported me. – Kofi
Karen D. Taylor
Sons: Chenzira Taylor Lewis and Siyaka Taylor Lewis
I have always been enamoured by my mother’s unadulterated focus and ability to create as an artist. It’s always helped me to see her not only as a mum, but also as an artist and creative in her own right. And it’s been inspiring to see her flourish throughout my life in her different creative identities. She always encouraged my autonomy and inquisitiveness and aided my creative spirit. Her determination demonstrated that my dreams and creative endeavours are attainable. ― Chenzira
I see my mother as a community pillar, a preservationist of Blackness and Black culture and Black excellence. She is a preserver of the relic, an educator, a nurturer, a policer of integrity. I love the uniqueness of who she is, her quirks, her silliness, her strength and intelligence. She is very New York to the core; she is an intellectual, a scholar with the grit of the jazz nightlife scene. Most definitely a music snob, jazz and blues head, creatively impulsive, loving, laid back and full of big laughs. At the core, she is serene. She is literally the perfect yin and yang of creativity and strong love. – Siyaka