He’s won Emmys and was recognized by President Obama as a BMe Community Leader. As CEO of Ya Momz House and co-founder of Hip-Hop On L.O.C.K., Emmai Alaquiva is documenting the local BLM movement in photos and was inspired by his daughter to create an exceptional video featuring the Deaf community. We caught up with him to talk about what he’s seeing on both sides of the lens.

You have photographed and covered the protests and murals, and so much going on around Black Lives Matter. What is your reaction to it all?

My reaction to all that is going on in this current intersection of American history is “action.” Every citizen in this country has a responsibility to be a part of the conversation now more than ever before. Silence is no longer an option. Witnessing without action is an aged approach to justice.

Emmai Alaquiva
Emmai Alaquiva and his daughter Makayla documenting a Black Lives Matter protest. Photo by Anthony Jefferson.

Do you see change happening in Pittsburgh as a result of the BLM movement?

I do see changes happening in our city with organizations like 1HOOD Media and Hill District Arts Plan getting the support they deserve surrounding social justice, or the Black Pittsburgh Matters Legislation sponsored by City Councilmen R. Daniel Lavelle and Rev. Ricky Burgess that makes Pittsburgh the first city in the nation officially to state that their black citizens and black communities matter.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to get involved and help?

I would encourage individuals to tap into their activism by first accepting that it isn’t just one act, one march or one protest. Instead, it is an action of going “within” to find the very best way to amplify a movement of justice so others do not go “without.” An example of this is a PSA called “Unspeakable,” in which several individuals from all over the country came together to create a piece of art that gave a platform to the community of the deaf, hard of hearing and those with disabilities. (Watch the video here).*

What is the best part of your job and why?

I don’t have a job. I have a duty and responsibility to shine the light of my story and the stories of others through the ambient vessel of art. There is a Native American belief that the decisions you make today will affect 13 generations after you. I am focused on just that.

What is your big idea for Pittsburgh?

TO VOTE, VOTE, VOTE. Simple but very big idea.

What’s one thing you would love to change about Pittsburgh?

I would love to change how inclusive we are of people with disabilities.

Podcast you’re addicted to?

Questlove Supreme.

What book would you highly recommend?

Mixed Me!” by Taye Diggs.

Emmai Alaquiva
Emmai Alaquiva documenting a Black Lives Matter protest on West Liberty Avenue. Photo by Daren Berringer.

Who should be the unofficial Mayor of Pittsburgh?

Wasi Mohamed.

Ideal date night in Pittsburgh?

Catching a jitney to the North Shore and walking to the Fred Rogers statue with matching yellow Sony Walkman sets with dinner delivered by Claudy M. Pierre.

What song in your playlist is on endless repeat?

“The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” by Lauryn Hill (the song, not the album). This song got me through some very tough times and I still look to it today for bottomless inspiration.

What’s been bugging you lately?

The weather has been entirely too hot for summer bike rides with my baby girl.

Write three words to describe Pittsburgh:

A magnificent kerfuffle.

What is the one thing that would surprise Pittsburghers most about you?

That I know sign language and that I am a strict vegan.

Venita Smith signs power in “Unspeakable.” Photo courtesy of Emmai Alaquiva.
Venita Smith signs power in “Unspeakable.” Photo courtesy of Emmai Alaquiva.

Favorite Pittsburgh brewery?

I don’t drink, but if there was a brewery that focused on nothing but non-alcoholic ginger beer, that would be dope!

Your not-so-secret Pittsburgh spot?

B52 in Lawrencville.

It’s time to unwind. Where do you head?

Home to watch and analyze TV shows with my wife, canvas painting and bike riding with my daughter and play hoops with my dog, Chewy, with popcorn.

What question do you wish we had asked?

What my favorite cereal was growing up as a child: Cap’n Crunch with two ice cubes and two bowls in a row so that the milk tasted like a milkshake.

*The “Unspeakable” PSA was created by Emmai Alaquiva, Amy Crawford, Danielle Filip, Greg Pollock, Cydney Cooper, Jack Ohrman, Bud’da Anderson and Bianca “Blush” Atterberry.

See who else is NEXT Up here.

Have an idea for NEXT Up? Email us here.

Jennifer has worked at the Mattress Factory, Brooklyn Museum of Art and Dahesh Museum of Art and is co-author of Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania. She also is co-coordinator of Handmade Arcade. Musically, she is in a band called The Garment District and is a founding member of Brooklyn's The Ladybug Transistor.