In the Davis household, water guns aren’t allowed in the front yard. The kids — who are multiracial — can only play with them in the back, where a police officer driving by couldn’t mistake the toys for real weapons and respond with potentially deadly force.

Kristin and Ryan Davis, a white couple, learned this lesson in 2014 when a Cleveland officer fatally shot Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy, while he played with a toy gun in a park. The family has always talked about race, so it made sense to Kristin when Nolan, 8, said in June that he wanted to speak out more for the rights of people who look like him.

He wanted to organize a Black Lives Matter march for children.

Nolan and his 5-year-old sister, who are adopted, understand that people with skin like theirs have often been treated badly and even killed.

“They know what happened to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor [and] Tamir Rice,” Kristin Davis said. “They know all that. I think as much as they can understand it, they do, but they know that it’s okay to talk about.”

The rally that Nolan dreamed up grew to a size his parents never imagined, drawing about 700 people on Saturday to a park near their home in Kirkwood, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis. The crowd, a mix of children and adults of different races, added their voices to a chorus of people across the United States who for weeks have taken to the streets to demand change in how police treat black people.

Before Nolan decided he wanted to organize an event, the Davises walked in two other recent rallies for racial justice. At one march, Nolan asked to talk into the megaphone. “Stop hurting black people,” he told the crowd.

Maybe, Nolan thought later, other kids would want to tell the crowd what they were thinking if he hosted his own protest. He initially wanted to start the march at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, his mom said, but it turned out that holding a rally at a national icon requires a lot of permits.

So Nolan and his mom decided to host the event in a local park. They made a flier on Kristin’s computer and posted it on Facebook, where it spread rapidly until it had been shared more than 225 times. Kristin said she alerted local police to the march so the kids would be safe from traffic, and the department was supportive.

On the slightly rainy day of the rally, Nolan donned a heather-gray shirt emblazoned with the names of abolitionists and civil rights leaders before he and his parents went to Kirkwood Park. He got to speak into a megaphone again.

“I’m worried about black people, like me, getting hurt,” he told those who had gathered. “Some skin is like chocolate. Some is like vanilla. Some is mixed together like mine. But we’re all people!”

Nolan picked up his sign, where he had used an orange marker to write “Kids can make a change.” Then he led the crowd — wearing face masks to protect against the novel coronavirus — east on West Adams Avenue, past the stores and restaurants on North Kirkwood Road, and back to the park. Nolan loves trains, so his mom made sure the two-mile loop passed the Amtrak station downtown.

They ended the rally with sidewalk chalk, which kids used to write messages of support for each other. Some wrote, “Black lives matter,” and others printed, “Let’s be kind.” One girl etched, “Thank you, Nolan, for doing this,” and added a heart.

Kristin said she started thinking seriously about race eight years ago, when Nolan joined her family. Now, she said she co-chairs the racial equity committee at her children’s school and takes cues from black parents about how to raise her children.

Still, Kristin said she doesn’t always have the answers. When Floyd died during an arrest in May, Nolan asked just one question: Why?

“It sounds simple, but it’s a pretty profound question because there isn’t really a good explanation for that,” Kristin said. Nolan and his sister “don’t understand systemic racism as it exists within the police, within education, within health care.”

Sometimes, Kristin said, her children say they don’t want to die like Floyd did. She reassures them but also wants to make sure they’re prepared for the challenges they might face.

Nolan, meanwhile, is focused on helping other children understand the same issues. His biggest hope, he said, is that other kids will host racial justice rallies like he did.

“They can have their own marches, and then they learn about Black Lives Matter,” he said. “And more people and more people and more people — maybe a dozen thousand.”

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