Actress and musician Queen Latifah made her first public appearance following her mother's death at this weekend's 2018 Essence Fest

By Mia McNiece and Janine Rubenstein
July 07, 2018 04:55 PM

Queen Latifah made her first public appearance since sharing the news in March that her mother Rita Owens died from complications of a heart condition at the Essence Fest in New Orleans on Friday, and used the opportunity to pay tribute to her mother.

During the My Black Is Beautiful dinner sponsored by P&G at the Ace Hotel, Latifah told the crowd about her mother who was an Irvington, New Jersey high school teacher.

“While teaching and raising my brother and I, she was being a mom to all of these other students. If you got pregnant you came to my momma. If you were worried about boys you came to my mom. If you wanted to know about a girl, was she good for you or not, you came to my mom. If you want to talk about the things you dream, you came to my mother,” said Latifah. “If you were getting abused at home and you couldn’t tell anybody you came to my mother. She was that type of teacher.”

Queen Latifah at 2018 Essence Festival
Paras Griffin/Getty Images

Latifah, who performed at the event the following night with other headliners Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige and Erykah Badu, also spoke about the important lessons her mother taught her.

“I watched her give back all my life. So giving back is not even an option. It’s a requirement,” said Latifah. “She would always say that thing “to those much is given much is required.” But that’s not so much a burden that is a gift.”

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In an effort to give back, the actress and musician, 48, is partnered with Proctor & Gamble to launch the Queen Collective — an initiative aimed at helping more women step behind the camera.

The Queen Collective will welcome submissions from all kinds of women hoping to tell their story. Two women will be chosen from all the proposed stories and the Collective will work with them to make sure their movie is financed, made and distributed — with the mentorship of Latifah herself to help them along.

“It’s a drop in the bucket but it’s something. Over the years it’s been important for me to change who I look out and see behind the camera,” said Latifah. “We all can change things. When you make a movie you can employ 150 people. So we hope to make a difference by doing that.”