How to Get Your Kids Involved in Activism
Raising kids in a home that prioritizes activism can have a life-long impact on how they show up in the world as engaged and educated members of society. We sat down with powerhouse moms and organizers Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs and Maebel Gebremedhin to hear firsthand how they're leading by example in their own homes.
Activism is a verb—something you do that’s driven by a passion for justice and peace, says Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs, a mom, organizer, artist, and Director of Community Engagement at Women’s March. “It’s the action of staying involved in one’s community and organizing to fight for a better world for everyone.” Bringing your children along teaches them that they should be a part of the change they want to see. “When we raise kids in a home that prioritizes activism as a value system, we teach them about how to show up in the world.”
Maebel Gebremedhin, a mom who organized the Children’s Marches in Brooklyn and Manhattan earlier this month, at which her son was a speaker, adds, “When we involve our children in what’s happening in the world, it affects them in a positive way later on. It stays with them. I have seen my kids become so much more confident.”
In addition to having regular and frequent conversations with your kids about racism and justice, it’s also imperative to prep them for what they might see or experience at a protest before you go, and talk about their experiences and feelings afterward. Gebremedhin says that before the first Children’s March, she and her oldest son, age 11, recorded him talking about how he was feeling and what his expectations and intentions were. And while the whole family was tired after the event, they made time to do a debrief as a group, discussing each person’s feelings and reactions to the day’s events.
Some parents may have safety concerns about bringing their children to a protest or march. But St. Bernard-Jacobs says that she has taken her son to rallies and protests “even when the moment is highly charged” because it’s important to her that her family stand up for their community. “For marginalized people, there is no wrong time or way to protest,” she says. “Our communities are constantly under attack. To be enraged in the face of injustice is justified, and that’s an important lesson for kids to learn if they want to stand on the right side of history.” Gebremedhin, however, says she wouldn’t bring her children to events at night and suggests participating during the day if possible, noting that it’s not the protestors she’s worried about, but the reactions of police. It’s a decision each family will have to weigh for themselves.
But protests and marches aren’t the only way to imbue activism into your family life. Both Gebremedhin and St. Bernard-Jacobs say that making donations as a family can help children get involved in important causes. “For example, encourage your child to always donate some of their birthday money to a cause they care about,” says St. Bernard-Jacobs. She suggests picking out an organization together and writing a letter to go with the monetary donation. Volunteering as a family is another great place to start.
Your everyday home environment matters, too. Lean into conversations about racial justice and fairness, making them a part of your day-to-day life, and keep books and other media on the topic, and that feature Black and brown protagonists, in your home. Model for your kids what it means to fight for what’s fair. “Activism is a muscle. The more you work at it, the better it is for your overall well-being,” says St. Bernard-Jacobs. “Parents need to encourage their kids to flex this muscle from as early as possible, so it’s a seamless part of their lives as they grow up.”
You don’t have to go far back in history to see how children can make a difference—Gebremedhin looks to Ruby Bridges, who was just 6 years old when she integrated an elementary school in the South in 1960 and has become a lifelong activist, as an example of the power of a child’s actions. She hopes to organize a worldwide Children’s March later this summer, and knows that bringing kids to the forefront can affect real change. “Children’s voices are the most important, because it’s their future,” she says. “If we can get our kids out there in one day, and get their voices heard, it would change the world.”