“We are here because we want to show our children that their freedom is directly connected to their joy,” said Kiara Pesante Haughton, who stood with her 2-year-old daughter, Zora, at U.S. Navy Memorial Plaza on Saturday morning. “No matter how badly the state may try to break their body or their spirit, being joyful is a protest in and of itself.”
Children blew bubbles and poured glitter onto cardboard signs at the Memorial Plaza to kick off the day of protests. The event, the Black Mamas March co-organized by Haughton, rallied dozens of families with music, pizza and a guided meditation session before marching toward the Mall. The intergenerational parade spilled on to Madison Drive as kids in strollers and the parents manning them shouted “I love being black!”
A few blocks away, Black Lives Matter Plaza had transformed into a full-fledged exposition of African American culture. One block of the two-block plaza became the Chocolate City Experience, an event organized by black female artists to promote local culture and businesses. Vendors sold local black art and offered free paint and canvasses.
“We are not here just to protest, we are trying to show the world we have more to offer,” said Nefertiti Nakiya, who sat at a booth promoting local artists. “We want to showcase our economic power and our creative power.”
Many of the exhibits Saturday were dominated by children: a huge chess board, jump roping, yoga, dancing to jazz.
Keyonna Jones, a painter from Southeast Washington, brought her 9-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son to see the massive Black Lives Matter street mural she had helped paint weeks ago (and so they could help her sell graphic designs). Jones said she loves knowing that her grandchildren will be able to say their ancestor was a part of this movement.
“I didn’t think this space would still be activated,” she said as a band of horns and drums roared nearby. “Change is about healing. I live in Southeast, and we’re fighting for resources, but we can also create art to heal. We can be both.”
Hope and pride similarly motivated April Simington to drag her five boys out of bed at 7 a.m. on Saturday to protest. She had spent weeks having one hard conversation after another — explaining to her 6-year-old why his dad is a good police officer but others can be bad; telling her confused 10-year-old triplets not to fear the black men who were killed but instead their killers; and reminding her 16-year-old son time and time again to pull down his hoodie, to take out his earphones when he walks, to stick his hands out the window if a police officers pulls him over while driving. “I just want you to come home; you have to come home,” she has told him over and over again.
Today, finally, was about joy. “I am having an amazing time,” she said as her sons wagged their hips, dancing beside her. “I hope this makes my children go home and feel more proud and less scared.”
Jahlil, Simington’s 10-year-old son, started the morning timid and fearful. “What happened to George Floyd, it could happen to me,” he said, taking a break from his second slice of pizza. “That makes me scared.”
Jahlil said he wants to be a math teacher when he grows up. But more than that, he wants to be able to sleep at night, which has grown increasingly difficult over the past few weeks as he has learned the names of more black men, just like him, who have been killed by police. He asked to sleep in his mom’s bed last night. “It’s the only place I feel safe,” he said.
But Saturday’s protests made Jahlil feel something he had not felt in a long time: confidence. He waved his handmade sign that read “BLM ‘I can’t breathe’ ” above his head as he marched down Madison Drive, remnants of Cheetos accentuating his smile. He watched as his mom and brothers broke out in dance and slowly, timidly, began to bounce.
“I liked this whole thing,” he said. “It made me feel confident.”