A father hopes photos of his son can change the world’s view of Black families
Photographs by Rashod Taylor
Story by Nicquel Terry Ellis, CNN
Published June 17, 2022
Rashod Taylor’s son, LJ, lies in his fort built partially with an American flag. “LJ is always making forts,” Taylor said, “and on this particular day, he wanted me to photograph him in one that he put together.”
Rashod Taylor knows he is raising a son in a country that is not always kind to Black men and boys.
Taylor said he sees how Black men are criminalized, killed by police and portrayed as absentee fathers.
It worries him. One day 6-year-old LJ will grow up and leave home while carrying the weight of his blackness from him. Taylor said he won’t always be there to protect him.
Taylor, who is a portrait photographer from Springfield, Missouri, channels this fear by taking photos of his son doing ordinary things such as taking a bath with his mom, sleeping, swimming or posing with a New York Yankees hat. Taylor sometimes joins LJ in the photos.
Taylor said he wants the world to see Black boys and Black men in a different light. There is a “tender, loving and caring” side that isn’t always shown in the media, he said.
“You don’t see positive images of Black families and Black fathers present with their kids,” Taylor said. “It’s just another side of the narrative that I wanted to show.”
Taylor said the photo series “Little Black Boy” depicts a more vulnerable and emotional side of both him and LJ. It also shows the closeness of their bond.
One photo, for example, is of Taylor sleeping next to his son on the couch. Another is an image of their faces side by side with solemn looks.
Taylor said the portraits convey that he loves his son deeply but struggles with the fact that he can’t go everywhere with him.
He sometimes thinks about Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice — two innocent, young Black boys who left home and never made it back to their parents.
“There’s this idea that I can lose him in an instant and I can’t control that,” Taylor said.
Taylor has captured moments when LJ held a small American flag while sitting on the porch and when he built a fort with the American flag draped over it.
LJ, ready to get out of his church clothes, reluctantly poses for a photograph on Easter Sunday.
LJ sleeps in 2020.
Taylor says they are a patriotic family that also understands the complicated history Black people have with the US. He believes LJ wants to find his place in this country.
“It’s one of those things that while I am a very proud American and glad I live in this great country,” Taylor said. “But at the same time, it’s almost like a daily struggle because you live in a place where people with Black and brown skin are still not treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve.”
Taylor said he wants America to view LJ like any other child who loves to swim, build forts, play soccer, video games and watch cooking shows. He’s raising his son to be an upstanding man who knows he is smart, strong and treats others the way he wants to be treated.
At the same time, Taylor said he will always remind LJ that he is Black. He will teach him to keep his hands on the steering wheel if he is ever pulled over by police and to avoid wearing hoodies when walking around at night.
Taylor said he grew up in a two-parent household and his father instilled some of those same values and lessons in him. But his biggest hope for him is that the burden placed on Black men and Black families will be lessened when LJ grows up and has his own children.
“I just hope people will look at the images and see a different point of view,” Taylor said. “And develop empathy but even more than empathy… something that will help enact change in them and their perception and how they look at my world and LJ’s world.”