by Julian Rankin | Photographed by Tate Nations
Femininity has long been an elemental force, since Athena’s image stoked the armies of Sparta and Joan of Arc sat on the war councils at Orleans.
Our modern heroines fight less for dominion by sword and staff and more for jurisdiction over their own healthcare, equal access to strongholds of power, and the autonomy to follow dreams of every size. Funmi “Queen” Franklin knows what’s at stake. Her leadership organization – rooted in her experience as a plus-size black woman in the South – fuses fashion, community service, and sisterhood to attack the problems of this century in signature style.
Queen’s company, Hathor LLC, is named for the Egyptian goddess of love, beauty, and motherhood. “There was a decision to connect ourselves to the things she represented, which are femininity, joy, sex, love, music. All the beautiful things in life.”
Under the Hathor umbrella is Thick And Proud Sisters (TAPS), founded in 2012 when Queen felt called by God to take up the mission. The purpose of the organization is to redefine paradigms of physical beauty and self-love; and to provide resources and education for a group of women that Queen feels are largely left behind. She directed TAPS toward women over the age of 21 who are size 12 and above. The parameters sound arbitrary, but they coincide with a very specific shared experience that Queen uses to speak universal truth. TAPS holds monthly events and sessions – many open to the public – that inform and strengthen a network of enlightened women. The organization gives back through fundraising drives for local nonprofits and by showcasing and supporting black-owned businesses in Jackson. Members are encouraged to make positive change in their own households, neighborhoods, and daily lives.
“This is a segment of society that’s not often considered for anything,” Queen says of the plus-size community. “No one invests in studies about us. You’re not ugly but you’re not gorgeous. You’re not fat but you’re not skinny. We’re just there.”
Queen knew there were others like her who had experienced abuse, failed pregnancies, family schism, and the litany of struggles that come with breaking free from a long legacy of marginalization. In the African American tradition, Queen says, women used to gather, converse, and sing as daily ritual, often while cooking or cleaning or bathing the children. As society’s promising evolution has shattered many of those domestic shackles, it has also fragmented that shared fellowship. “We make an effort to get back to that spirit. It’s important for us to be able to feed off each other.”
Queen and her husband Brad Franklin are both champions for Jackson’s rise. In their vows, they pledged allegiance to each other as well as to the city. “We want to see the whole area thrive,” says Queen. “Regardless of your nationality, age, sex or gender, political beliefs.”
They chose to live and raise children in Fondren because it represents the diversity and inclusion that they value. Just like TAPS itself, efforts for progress begin in small, localized, intimate circles. Be who you are. Raise good kids. Rally your people. Wake them up so they can join other, different groups of people in empathetic resistance. This is Queen’s philosophy, and one she hopes to pass along to her children. “We want to guide the individuals we’re putting out in the world,” she says. “Not just provide for them but contribute to who they become.”
On January 21, 2017 – from Jackson to D.C. to London to Antarctica – millions across the globe participated in the Women’s March. Some came in hope, others in anger, for a variety of causes; all were unified. Queen was inspired by the mobilization, but also aware that many of her black sisters weren’t among the ranks. Not because they didn’t care, but because they likely didn’t know. “Black women are often not aware of anything like a march,” Queen says. “If I don’t have a connection to the white folks, I may not know about it. We’re all women. Why don’t we all come to the table?”
And they have. TAPS stimulates dialogue across boundaries in places where it was once siloed. Queen works with other area women and organizations of all kinds to solidify these channels. “It’s putting people in rooms they would never be in,” says Queen. “Giving people knowledge about things they haven’t heard about.” There’s always more work to be done.
Queen has raised a son, but it is her seven-year-old daughter Bralynn, she says, who has made her a better woman. She hopes that by the time her daughter is old enough to hear what the world thinks about Mississippi, she’ll be good and strong. Strong like Queen. “That’s all I hope for her. The opportunity to make her own choices in a rational, responsible way. It’s a gift to be able to pour yourself into somebody else. To do that for a child who is going to live past you.” Queen doesn’t want Bralynn to make the same mistakes she made, but acknowledges with a smile that her daughter will take her own risks and walk through her own fire. Because of a mother’s guidance, she’ll know how to do it on her own terms.
Every person has a say in what comes next. In Fondren, in Jackson, in Mississippi, in the country, across the world. But simply having a voice isn’t enough. You must exercise it, understand its power, and find a way to make it heard. For all Jackson women, not just those who wear size 12 and are old enough to drink, Queen Franklin is a light to look toward. Amidst the worldly ruckus, she’s a strong and steady bass line that cuts through the static. She stepped onto the stage so that others who feel like she does would know that they belong in the light, too.