by Kathya Alexander
On Friday, Nov. 12, Monique Franklin will take the stage to share a reading of her provocative play Mama’z Muezz. The performance starts at 7 p.m. at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute. Accompanied by a live four-piece band, Mama’z Meuzz examines the experiences of African American mothers from present-day, historical, and ancestral perspectives.
Franklin will also share part of Mama’z Muezzeum, an interactive and introspective experience full of artifacts, adornments, and ancestral altars that acknowledge what many consider universal experiences (like conception and birth) that for many mothers are traumatic experiences that involve grief and trauma and that need healing.
In addition to free tickets, Black women attending the performance who are mothers will get a signed copy of the “Mama’z Muezz” chapbook, a collection of the poems from the play. They will also receive a flower, a magnet, royal seating at the front of the house, and a free digital download of the “Mama’z Muezz” mini album.
“One of the things that was really important to me as a single Black mom,” Franklin said, “was to honor other Black mothers in our community outside of Mother’s Day and create a really special experience at this reading for them. And so we were able to craft the Black queen mother experience, which offers free tickets to the play and the reception and the sneak peek of the Mama’z Muezzeum.”
Exploring the myriad emotional and spiritual aspects of motherhood has taken Franklin on a journey of discovery that spans centuries, on both the physical and metaphysical planes. For Franklin, the show is about self-actualization and healing. It’s about exploring, as a mother, where you’ve been and where you’re trying to go and encouraging Black moms to take the time to do that for themselves.
Mama’z Muezz started as a work in progress in 2014 when Franklin was selected to be part of the Creation Project with the CD Forum. Working with her mentor, Valerie Curtis-Newton, she put together a 30-minute piece that was an exploration of motherhood, of Black women as individuals, and of Black mothers collectively. At the time, she was exploring her own experiences at the intersection of motherhood, womanhood, and Blackness in America. And she started to include the experiences of other notable Black women, like Mamie Till-Mobley, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Alice Walker, seeking out Black women’s stories to help gain an understanding about her own life.
When she began to explore how other mothers she respected navigated motherhood and to explore the experiences of Black women who happen to be mothers in a historical context, it led her to investigate her spiritual and ancestral connections. So Mama’z Muezz tells Franklin’s stories, but it also includes the stories of Black women whom people are familiar with, though perhaps from a different perspective.
“For example,” Franklin mused, “many people know who Mamie Till is, but they don’t know — they don’t have a perspective on her life. They have a perspective of her as the mother of Emmett Till and what she did in response to being his mother. But not necessarily on who she was before that happened, or who was she that she then made that happen.”
Mamie Till-Mobley is canonized in American history as a 20th-century Black mother who started the Civil Rights Movement after the tragic circumstance of having a child lynched by white supremacists — a history threatened by Trump’s attacks on Critical Race Theory and more current laws against teaching the truth of systemic racism in the United States. She may be one of the most well-known Black mothers from the past century who started a social justice movement because of violence perpetrated against her child, but she was not the first to go through that experience, and she certainly has not been the last. Others include Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, whose death created the Black Lives Matter movement, and Larcenia “Cissy” Jones Floyd, the mother of George Floyd, whom he cried out to during those nine long minutes when a white policeman slowly murdered him using his knee on George Floyd’s neck to cut off his ability to breathe.
Franklin’s play envisions another Black mother during the Jim Crow era whose child is hanged while the white people around her, wives and children, “drank tea and their children played, while they sit and they smiled and they sit and they smiled.” Based on historical accounts, white society routinely witnessed this type of horror. She questions the mentality of white families when such an event could be like an everyday tea party and the kids not be terrified. And what of the white men who are capable of such violent acts?
Franklin said, “Like, if you’re doing this, if you’re so fragile that you do this because someone looked you in the eye, I can only imagine what you don’t take at home from your wife or from your kids. That level of violence doesn’t come out just when the fire is lit and the rope is on.”
Unfortunately, systemic racism isn’t just about lynching. It is about the everyday occurrences Black mothers go through to protect their children in school, where Black students are subject to disciplinary action at rates much higher than their white counterparts. And about protecting themselves during childbirth, where Black women have maternal mortality rates two to three times higher than those of white women.
After Black women have been demonized throughout history as Jezebels, mammies, and welfare queens, part of the experience of Mama’z Muezz is the diversity of definitive moments in the experience of Black motherhood that offer acknowledgement, celebration, wisdom, condolences, and healing. Franklin tackles this complex subject in a way that honors one of the most dishonored segments of American society.
Note: This event follows King County’s mandate that people ages 12 and older show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test result within the last 72 hours for admission.
Kathya Alexander is a writer, actor, storyteller, and teaching artist. Her writing has appeared in various publications like ColorsNW Magazine and Arkana Magazine. She has won multiple awards including the Jack Straw Artist Support Program Award. Her collection of short stories, Angel In The Outhouse, is available on Amazon.
📸 Featured Image: Monique Franklin (Photo: Michael B. Maine)
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