Empowering my 5-year-old to be an advocate and an activist

The last several weeks have been so very painful. I’ve struggled with how to explain to my children all that’s happening in our community and in our country in a way that doesn’t petrify them and allows them to stay hopeful, particularly when I haven’t been feeling incredibly hopeful myself.

But within my heart, hope has and always will be fostered through action. When I first spoke to my 5-year-old about Charlottesville, I relied heavily on the beautiful modeling of Nicole Lee, who wrote about her own conversation with her child in the piece Explaining Charlottesville to my 7-year-old. I really appreciated how Lee encouraged parents to take a moment to gather information and collect ourselves before we speak with our kids. So often, I lead by emotion and end up placing too much of my own weight onto my children. I’ve tried to follow Lee’s advice through these troubling weeks.

I also knew I wanted to empower my children to think about ways to advocate for change within our spheres of influence. Raising Race Conscious Children and EmbraceRace, my go-to resources for navigating race with my children, both suggest parents help kids focus on resistance when we discuss oppression (see Mia Birdsong’s essay on this topic) and that we make space for children to be activists in their own right.

After I shared what had happened in Charlottesville, I asked my son if he had any ideas on how we could respond as a family? He thought for a moment, and said, “why don’t we buy 100 Black Lives Matters signs and hand them out to people walking down the street?”

“I like that idea!” I responded. “Maybe I can reach out to our friends and neighbors and see who would like a sign. Can you help me think of what to say?”

“Sure!” he said. “How about, ‘who wants a Black Lives Matter sign like ours?'” Earlier this year, we had placed a gorgeous, yellow Black Lives Matter sign created by Black artist Matice M. Moore in our home’s window.

“That’s a good start,” I replied. “I’ll send an email and see who ways yes, okay?” My kid nodded.

“Oh! We could also have a lemonade stand and give the money to Black Lives Matter!” he suggested.

Our neighbors recently had a lemonade stand where the proceeds went to an animal shelter, so he was introduced to the concept of a fundraiser.

“Yes! That’s a great idea too! Let’s reach out to our neighbors and see if any of the other families would like to help us.”

Austin BLM

Just yesterday, we started distributing the 28 Black Lives Matter signs we ordered as part of my 5-year-olds suggested campaign and we have a tentative date scheduled to host a neighborhood lemonade sale to benefit our local Black Lives Matter chapter.

Obviously, these are small actions that will not solve the larger problems and patterns inflicting our country. At least, not overnight. But I believe it’s important to empower my children to think of themselves as change-agents and incorporate action into the fabric of our family. They see me taking action and I want them to develop the agency necessary to take action on their own. In these difficult times, it gives me hope to watch my kids advocate for change.

In what ways are you encouraging your kids to take action? I’d love to hear more below.

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