Strauss says that before meeting Richards and the rest of the family, she had no intention of installing “Mattress Flip” at the entrance to the museum. But after joining them at a memorial for Hakim on the date that would’ve been his 21st birthday, and learning more about Boo’s life, she was certain.
“The context changed,” Strauss says. “I was thinking about the position of the museum in relation to the city, and the way the museum is seen as disconnected from the city in many ways. I thought [“Mattress Flip”] seemed representative of both the feeling of joy I wanted to talk about but also a fitting memorial … I wanted to talk about his life and say that he was here. He existed and mattered.”
The name “Boo” glitters across the top of a Christmas stocking hanging off the staircase of his grandmother’s house on Sixth Street. Debris litters the stoop but inside, it’s tidy. Even though the family is Muslim, the house is decorated for the holidays with gold garland tacked to the wall and a big tree dotted with mini stockings. It’s a week before Christmas, and Richards says she needs to go to the dollar store and buy 50 more in order to have a stocking for each of Gloria’s 94 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Lots of kids and young adults stream in and out of the house. At least five cousins hanging out today have Boo tattoos on their arms. One of Boo’s sisters, 31-year-old Ceron, has “Boo” and his birth and death dates tattooed across her chest in black ink. Another sister, Khadiyah, rolls up her sleeve to show a tattoo of a long rose, its thorny stem threading through four ribbons: one for Boo, Quaan, Hakim and Nellie, a friend who died too young of a bad heart.
“He was a special baby,” says Richards of her son. “He was kind of spoiled, being the only boy with three older sisters, so of course they teased him a lot.”
Sumayya, 32, is the oldest, followed by Ceron and 29-year-old Nydeea. Then, when Boo was 2 years old, Richards had another son, Leron, 22, and then two more girls, Khadiyah, 21, and Natara, 19.
Richards smiles while reminiscing about Boo as a kid. About how he always begged for a puppy and how he was always much smaller, and gentler, than the other boys. He had a temper, too, and they say he was an overprotective brother. Still, even into his teens, the family thought of Boo as a big baby who mostly liked to stay to himself. He sucked his thumb until he was 17.
“He didn’t carry guns,” says Sumayya. “He rarely got into fistfights … he was a homebody.”
“The only thing he liked was [video] games and shows,” says Richards. “In preschool, he’d come home, take all his clothes off, sit down put his thumb in his mouth and watch TV.”
As he got older, he started getting into some trouble. At 18, he got caught with some pills and arrested for receiving stolen property. The year he died, he was arrested for robbery and related charges, which were withdrawn.
Everyone describes Boo as an animal lover and says he thought about becoming a veterinarian one day.
When his uncle, 40-year-old Wayne Richards, brought home a puppy named Roscoe in 2007, Boo was the one who took care of him every day.
The family trades stories about how much Boo loved this dog, even though he’s “crazy,” and about how he “lives in the basement” at Gloria’s, which they call the boy zone because it used to be mostly just Boo and the dog down there. They say Boo rarely left the basement because he felt safe down there. The family continued to take care of Roscoe because Boo loved him.
“He had this dog from when he was a puppy to when he died,” says Richards.
But two hours after this reporter left the family’s house that day in December, Roscoe died.
“They killed Roscoe,” says Richards. “They killed the dog for nothing.”
According to Richards, her nephew was sitting in a car with tinted windows across the street from Gloria’s house when a cop pulled up and stopped in front of the car. He panicked and ran from the car and straight into the family’s house, down into the basement. “There wasn’t nowhere for him to run,” says Richards. “So he just gave up. But it was too late, the cops kicked the door open and shot the dog.”
According to Richards, her nephew wasn’t arrested and the family filed a complaint with Internal Affairs. The Philadelphia Police Department did not comment by press time.
When Boo was born, Richards lived in the projects at Fifth and Washington. When he was 3, his mother sent him to Kaleidoscope, an arts enrichment pre-school program offered through Settlement music school. Back then, Patti Pedrick was a new teacher just out of college.
“He was my student for two years,” Pedrick says. “And then as he was getting ready to go to kindergarten, we just knew there was going to be trouble … [They’re a] great, great family, but overwhelmed. And he was having a hard time with the cognizance stuff.”
Employing massive shifts in scale and proximity, Strauss’ exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art features both modestly sized photographs in the gallery and an expansive installation of billboards that chart an epic voyage throughout the city.
It’s Thursday morning, and a small group of writers and photographers gather at the back entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where Zoe Strauss’ first PMA solo show, Zoe Strauss: Ten Years, kicks off with a dance party next Saturday, Jan. 14. We’re here for a mini tour of the Billboard Project, a re-telling of the “Under I-95” narrative across the cityscape. As of yesterday, 54 billboards featuring Strauss’ photographs have been installed on billboards all over the city.
"Linda [right] worked at Sunoco right at I-95 and Allegheny Avenue, and I made the photo of her a few years ago. Kelly [left] was made about a year after in Vegas. When I was traveling it was somethin...
We reported in the beginning of July that Philly’s unofficial photography laureate, Zoe Strauss, was raising some cash to get to the Gulf of Mexico. Her goal? To document the aftermath of BP’s oil spill, which was the result of an explosion on an oil-drilling rig off the southeast Louisiana coast 101 days ago. What follows [...]
PW's 2015 Philly Spring Guide