I was happy to say yes to Rebecca Jackson’s invitation to attend an event at the Koret Auditorium of the de Young Museum on May 13, 2023. It was called Kehinde Wiley Conversation on a Mother’s Love, and it featured a panel of mothers who had lost their children to systemic violence, including Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, Wanda Cooper, mother of Ahmaud Arbery, Taun Hall, mother of Miles Hall, Mona Hardin, mother of Ronald Greene, DeAnna Joseph, mother of Andrew Joseph, and Reverend Wanda Johnson, mother of Oscar Grant. The event was moderated by Pastor Michael McBride and was organized in partnership with the Love Not Blood Campaign.
This event was part of the Kehinde Wiley Speaker Series, a six-part series that brings together some of the biggest names in culture, art, sports, and activism. Through panels, performances, and collective healing practices, this series offers a platform to those most impacted by state-sanctioned violence and offers a constructive framework for understanding the intersections of art, suffering, and healing.
I collaborated with Rebecca Jackson on We Charge Genocide TV, a website and livestream protest show in 2020. It was my first time meeting her in person. This event was exactly the perfect social event for me because it combined social justice action, great aesthetics, and community. I am disabled and found the event physically accessible, but I was disappointed that most people in the audience were not masked. However, the series is livestreamed, and I plan to attend next month.
The panelists shared their stories of loss and their fight for justice. Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, founded E.R.I.C. – Eliminating Racism and Inequality Collectively, which seeks to provide ongoing support and education to victims of violence and families who are suffering from tragedy and loss. Wanda Cooper, the mother of Ahmaud Arbery, founded the Ahmaud Arbery Foundation, which empowers, serves, and affirms Black boys on the journey towards mental wellness. Taun Hall, the mother of Miles Hall, founded the Miles Hall Foundation, which supports and protects families by educating communities about mental illness and by protecting those suffering with mental illness from excessive use of force by law enforcement. Mona Hardin, the mother of Ronald Greene, has become the leading mother activist in Louisiana, advocating to legislators about officers involved in cover-ups and working with families impacted by this type of police action. DeAnna Joseph, the mother of Andrew Joseph III, is a mother, social worker, and advocate acting on behalf of the rights of children, families, and those with developmental disabilities. Reverend Wanda Johnson, the mother of Oscar Grant, is CEO of the Oscar Grant Foundation, a nonprofit that helps at-risk youth, grieving families, and students with support, enrichment, education, and hunger.
The Kehinde Wiley Speaker Series is a powerful platform that amplifies the voices of those most impacted by systemic violence. In his new body of paintings and sculptures, Wiley confronts the silence surrounding systemic violence against Black people through the visual language of the fallen figure. The paintings and sculptures offer a haunting meditation on the legacies of colonialism and systemic racism. I found the artwork breathtaking and engrossing. Later, over lunch, someone asked me if it was worthwhile or exploiting our pain. I think the art that reflects the trauma and beauty of the Black people inside white violence is valuable, even if it hurts.
The event ended with beautiful singing together and healing sounds from Song Remedy. I appreciated that the event was emotionally touching but also a call to action. As Eric Garner’s mother said “If you are not at the table, you are in the menu”. The event was a powerful reminder of the importance of organizing against systemic violence and working together to create a more just and equitable world.