Talking about racism is not new in my family.
Colorism and self-hatred were prominent in my family growing up, and I always wanted my children to be proud of being Black. Ever since their births, I told my son (9) and my daughter (6) they are smart, handsome, beautiful, and blessed and could accomplish anything with determination and hard work.
I purchase children’s books with Black protagonists and that center around Black experiences. I make sure to teach them the contributions of Black people to the U.S. and to the world. As a minister and Sunday school teacher, I make sure to point out the African presence in the Bible so my children and students know that they, too, are made in God’s image.
But I also tell my son, who is a highly functioning autistic, that if he doesn’t learn to control his behavior in school, the teachers at his elementary school could call the police on him. I show him the stories of Black children in schools who’ve been violently manhandled, handcuffed and abused by police. He knows being a Black boy means he’ll be treated differently by society.
So when I learned that Mayor Muriel Bower had “Black Lives Matter” painted on 16th Street in D.C., I knew I had to take my children to see it for themselves.
I have not shielded my children from the protests happening all over the world against police brutality and racism. Without inciting too much fear, I have explained to them that Black people still have to fight for equality and justice, especially when it comes to how we are treated by the police. I let them know that the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not end racism and injustice despite what the public school system teaches.
The first opportunity I received to protest with my ministerial colleagues, I turned it down. I thought about the excessive violence police used against the protestors and the risk of Covid-19. I saw the graphic images of rubber bullets embedded in protestors’ heads. The sister of one of my ministerial colleagues was maimed by a rubber bullet during a peaceful protest in D.C. I didn’t want to put myself in harm’s way.
However, a few days later, I came to the realization that I couldn’t miss this historic moment and neither could my children.
We went as a family to protest on 16th Street in Washington, DC, on Saturday, June 6. We wore our masks and walked towards the White House. I showed my children the National Guard who blocked off several streets, and I showed them the men I presumed to be snipers on top of the White House. They didn’t get to see it in totality, but they saw the yellow letters of the “Black Lives Matter” street art.
I also showed them all of the people standing in solidarity with Black people. I pointed out every encouraging sign and T-shirt. I was pleasantly surprised to see that other parents brought their babies and children to the overall peaceful protest. It encouraged me to know that we weren’t the only parents who wanted our children to witness so many people from all walks of life standing in solidarity against racism.
We stayed for just 30 minutes because I didn’t want to prolong our possible exposure to Covid-19. During that time, I only feared for our safety once. I felt there were some people walking too close to my children, so as my husband led us, I stood closely behind as to prevent anyone from touching them.
Overall, the protest was a good experience, and I’m glad that I brought my children. When they’re adults and people talk about the protests of 2020, I want them to be able to say that they participated, too.
I also wanted to show them that despite racism and the evil in the world, there are still more people for them than against them. My hope as they grow and mature is that the experience helps them to be politically aware and involved so they can stand against injustice.
Rev. Lauren Harris (Twitter: @revlaurelj) is an itinerant elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. She serves at New Life Laurel, a church plant of Reid Temple A.M.E. Church in Laurel, MD. She works for the Baltimore-Washington Conference of The United Methodist Church. She is the proud mother of two children, one on the autism spectrum. She blogs about her life as wife, mother and minister at www.throwupandtheology.com. She’s been published in Sojourners magazine, Gospel Today magazine, The A.M.E. Church’s Christian Recorder, and Modern Loss.