ABOVE: Breonna Taylor to be on the cover of Oprah’s “O” magazine in September 2020. The cover is the work of self-trained 24-year-old digital artist Alexis Franklin. (Image courtesy Oprahmag.com)
HER LIFE MATTERS. The words appear along with the name of Breonna Taylor on the September issue of O, The Oprah Magazine. A beautiful portrait of the 26-year-old emergency room technician created by digital artist Alexis Franklin graces the cover. The magazine enlisted Franklin and paper-cut artist Janelle Washington to honor Taylor in its latest edition.
Taylor was shot and killed in her home by police on March 13 in Louisville, Ky., when three police officers stormed into her apartment shortly after midnight on a no-knock search warrant. One of the officers was fired. Two have been placed on administrative duty. None of the officers have been charged in Taylor’s death.
The public was largely unaware of the incident until late May when George Floyd was murdered on camera by Minneapolis police, generating widespread rebuke and renewed attention to police killing Black people. In cities across the nation and the world, people responded by taking to the streets in protest.
While the circumstances surrounding Taylor’s death and others have become known, the media coverage has focused primarily on Floyd and a more expansive protest agenda about the Black Lives Matter movement, racial justice, and police reform.
A steady groundswell has continued to press for justice in Taylor’s case—her family, lawyers, the community-at-large, and celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey. Marking Taylor’s birthday on June 5, Oprah posted on Twitter encouraging her followers to honor her life and memory.
She said: “In our fight to remind the world that Black Lives Matter, we need to remember those Black lives also include Black women. So on what would’ve been her 27th birthday today, let’s speak her name: Breonna Taylor.” The message was accompanied by an image similar to the one created for the magazine cover.
The issue also includes a silhouette of Taylor by Alexandria, Va.-based Washington, whose practice is called Washington Cuts. The image features nearly 100 names from the African American Policy Forum’s #SayHerName campaign. The project was initiated in 2014, after the death of Sandra Bland, to bring attention to Black women and girls who have been “victimized by racist police violence.” An article in the issue also recommends how readers can raise awareness for Taylor.
For the first time since Oprah Magazine was founded in 2000, Oprah isn’t on the cover of her magazine. In her column for the issue, she explained why the unprecedented decision was made. Because, “We can’t be silent. We have to use whatever megaphone we have to cry for justice,” Oprah said.
The magazine commissioned Franklin, a self-taught artist based in Dallas, Texas, to produce the cover and shared how it came together. She reimagined a selfie photo Taylor took that has appeared countless times in the press and transformed it into a painterly image. Franklin used Procreate for the iPad to figure out her concept and Photoshop to build the digital portrait.
Franklin said she was deeply affected by the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille in 2016. The tragedies hit her so hard she shut herself off from the news, she said. But the death of Taylor was an awakening.
“I was uncontrollably angry and hurt. This time there was no shoving it down,” the artist said. Inspired by how Taylor represented herself, Franklin was motivated to create a powerful portrait.
“Looking at it (the selfie), I see an innocence, simple but powerful. It was critical for me to retain that. And there was a sparkle in Breonna’s eyes—a young Black woman posing in her Louisville EMS shirt, happy to be alive,” Franklin said.
“So many things were going through my mind—Breonna’s life, mostly, and how it ended so abruptly and unnecessarily.”