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'So glad I did it': Mom takes son, 7, to peaceful protest

"If you want change, you have to stand up for what is right."
/ Source: TODAY

Karen Akpan has read the children's book "Let the Children March" by Monica Clark-Robinson with her 7-year-old son, Aiden, many times.

But as protests began after the death of George Floyd, the book — a story of black children who are jailed after protesting for civil rights in 1963 — took on a new meaning for Akpan, who blogs about homeschooling and traveling in an RV at The Mom Trotter.

Akpan reread the book with Aiden, asking if he'd like to attend a peaceful protest near their Riverside, California RV park to speak up for change in the wake of Floyd's death. Aiden wanted to attend, but had concerns, which Akpan wrote about on Instagram:

"Some of his questions and concerns after we read the book yesterday:⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ Mom, will they put me in jail for protesting like the kids in the book?⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ Will they spray water hoses at us and let the dogs bite us?⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣ Mom, I don't want to be shooted by the police. I don't want to be dead.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣"

After Akpan talked with Aiden, she and her husband, Sylvester, decided to let him attend.

Aiden made his own sign for the protest, writing, "Don't shoot me," after telling his mom he didn't want to be shot like Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was killed by armed white residents of a Georgia neighborhood in February 2020.Karen Akpan

Aiden made his own sign, with a cover of the book that inspired him to protest along with a hand-drawn picture of a gun that read, "Don't shoot me." Akpan and Aiden marched for over two hours, heading home once the citywide curfew drew near.

"I'm so glad I did it," Akpan told TODAY Parents. "Now he knows he was part of the movement."

For parents who feel nervous about attending a protest with kids, Akpan gives these tips.

Talk to kids beforehand

Aiden's main concerns were whether or not he'd be treated like the children he'd read about in his book.

"I told him this happened a long time ago ... but that’s when he said, 'Well, will I be shooted?' I said, 'No, they’re not going to do that because we’re just peacefully protesting. We’re not starting drama, we’re just going to physically walk and let our voices be heard.'"

Experts say it's never too early to talk to kids about race and racism. By ages 2-4, children can internalize racial bias, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics article.

Karen Akpan at a Riverside, California protest following the death of George Floyd with her 7-year-old son, Aiden.Karen Akpan

Try a smaller city

Akpan lives just over an hour from Los Angeles, but knew protests in a large city would be too intense for a small child.

"Find a safer place or city," said Akpan. "It may be a 30-minute drive away."

Be aware of curfews

Akpan's plan was to leave the protest at 6 p.m., when the citywide curfew went into effect.

"I knew things were getting a little rowdy around curfew time because that’s when the police came in," said Akpan. "There were so many of them — maybe 50-75 all dressed up and ready."

"Around that time, we started slowly leaving and waking to the car, because at that point, when it’s after curfew, (the police) can do anything they want to do. There’s no specification for that and I’ve seen them do it."

Keep an eye on your surroundings

"You go to the protest and the point is (the police) can’t really do anything to you unless you’re instigating," added Akpan. "If you’re in a crowd and they’re instigating, obviously it’s not a safe place to be with your kid."

On the opposite side of Aiden's protest sign, the 7-year-old wrote, "Black lives matter."Karen Akpan

Let kids express their feelings

Akpan asked Aiden what he wanted to put on his sign.

"When the whole thing happened with Ahmaud (Arbery), I explained to him what happened," she added, recalling Aiden's reaction to the shooting of the 25-year-old black man earlier this year. "So he said, 'I don’t want to be shot like Mr. Maud.' He said, 'I’m going to put that on my paper.'"

Karen Akpan says she loves knowing her son will reflect back on this time in history and know he participated in calling for a change.Karen Akpan

Akpan is glad that years from now, Aiden will be able to say that he participated in a part of history.

"My biggest thing was for him to understand that not everything is going to go our way, but if you want change, you have to stand up for what is right."