A Google search turned Heather Hopson into a crusader for single black mothers.
“I typed ‘Single Black Mom’ and these negative narratives rose to the top of the page,” she remembers. “I immediately wanted to bang on Google’s door, since it has an office right here in Pittsburgh. Instead, I decided to take control of the story and elevate voices of amazing single black mothers in my circle, in my community.”
Hopson, 41, of Penn Hills, decided to channel her anger into Single Mom Defined, a photo essay and video series featuring more than 100 mothers and their kids. The interactive exhibit will be on display at the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival (TRAF) from June 1 through June 10.
Photographers Omari Souza and Robert Waters capture the essence of motherhood in black-and-white and color prints — some candid, some posed, some with added illustrations. Through the video component, women share their parenting experiences and dole out advice while their children describe them using words such as “inspiring,” “kind,” “phenomenal” and “affectionate.”
As the founder of Motor Mouth Multimedia, a communications and marketing firm, Hopson quickly began networking with people who shared her passion. She received funding from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh, a grant program collaboration between The Heinz Endowments and The Pittsburgh Foundation. Additional support came through AlphaLab, Flexable, The Motherhood and Repair the World.
Thanks to social media, she also received a deluge of responses from mothers across the country.
“I am a single mother in every way imaginable,” says Yvette Shipman, a local participant. “I attended every parent-teacher conference, lacrosse game and swim competition alone. I never received child support from my son’s father. Single parenting makes a deep impression on my soul and sensitizes me to the truth that anyone in this position carries a greater responsibility. So being a part of Single Mom Defined lays a strong foundation of love and support.”
Statistics show that single women with families account for 77 percent of the households living in poverty in Allegheny County.
“We need to love and support, not stereotype, our neighbors in need,” Hopson says. “Although they may experience hardships, they can turn their struggles into strengths. God has an amazing ability of transforming your burdens into blessings.”
Hopson was raised in a two-parent household (her mom and dad recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary), and she shares custody of her daughter, Caitlynn, with the girl’s father, who plays an active role in her life. A former television news reporter with a degree in journalism from Michigan State University, Hopson now runs an award-winning parenting website, DiaryofaFirstTimeMom.com.
Beyond the installation at TRAF, she will publish the photos and videos on SingleMomDefined.com, an online portal that provides relevant news, entertainment and resources. Single moms can also join the online and in-person support group that’s developing on Facebook, a community that already is 250-women strong.
After TRAF, the exhibit will travel to other locations, such as Repair the World in East Liberty. Hopson, who considers this crusade her calling, plans to organize pop-up professional photo shoots of more moms to increase awareness. As a thank you, participants will receive copies of their pictures.
“There are a lot of television shows and even movies that try to illustrate what it’s like to live as a single mother or mother in general. But Single Mom Defined gives me, and other local moms, a tangible, real-life community that I can go to for support, without judgment or assumptions,” says Kimberly Fairley, a project participant and author of the book “Imperfectly Perfect.”
“I also chose to participate in the photo shoot,” Fairley says, “because it gave visual proof to the community around us that I don’t look like any of the trials and hardships I’ve endured during this journey. That single moms are excelling in this life, finding beauty beyond brokenness.”