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A little Black girl participating in the BLM Children's March on June 9, 2020 holds sign that reads "Power To My People"A little Black girl participating in the BLM Children's March on June 9, 2020 holds sign that reads "Power To My People"

Parental Arts

How to Teach Kids to Show Up

Maebel Gebremedhin is a Black mother of three young Black boys, organizer of The Children’s March and founder of Moms Moving Forward, an organization that works to harness the power of mothers to make the world better. We caught up with Maebel on how to get children excited about the political process and having their voices heard.
Photography
Angela Weiss
You were inspired to plan The Children’s March after taking your oldest son to a George Floyd protest. What advice do you have for mothers who are walking that line between the desire to protect their children from some of the world’s harsher realities and the desire to inform and empower them to create change?

My advice would be to meet them where they are. My sons are all different ages so the conversations are different with each of them. It’s scary to have these conversations with your children because they’re so hard. Especially because you want to do it in a way that doesn’t jade them but also doesn’t freak them out.

I speak to all of my children very honestly, but I can speak to my almost twelve year old a little more comfortably. I don’t have to necessarily watch everything that I say because he has a bigger understanding of the world. Whereas with my five year old, I am a little more cautious with him and conscience of what I’m saying and how I’m saying it. One of my tricks that I use with my five year old, is when he asks me a question, I ask it back to him. That gives him some time to think about it and understand how he feels about it. Maybe he’ll come up with an answer and if he doesn’t then we’ll work through it together.
With the election, how do you approach talking to your five year old about what is happening in the world and how he can get involved?

For this election, specifically, he’s aware of what’s happening in the world because he needs to be as a little Black boy. He kind of watches the news, and when he asks questions about what he’s watching, I’m very open about it. But we try to find words and phrases that make sense to him and say it in a way that we all understand.

I’ll say, “This election we are going to be choosing a new president, if people want that. It’s not just us who get to vote.” I explain how the process works, that everybody gets to choose. Some people will choose the current president and some people will choose someone different. I say that hopefully the winner will be the person we want to win and if that’s not the case, we’ll still do the things that need to happen. We’ll continue with the protests and find other ways to have our voices heard.

Over 700 people attended your Children’s March back in June. What do you think it meant for the children to see their voices elevated?

It’s been months now and I’ve seen a change in them, especially my oldest. It’s really affected them in a positive way and I think they understand their voices are very important and they have the ability to change the world, too. We had three marches and each time my children spoke up. They never came up with a speech beforehand, but they were inspired and so they spoke up. They came up with their own chants and their speeches themselves. They did everything on their own.

And how can we incorporate that as parents, in the every day, helping our children to feel heard and like they are a part of something larger than themselves?

The every day, what happens at home, is much more important. That’s really what’s going to change the world. The best way, I think, is just to let your children be heard. For a long time our culture in the United States hasn't supported that. At home, I also try and make sure that they see themselves in everything. I make sure to buy books and cartoons and things that show children that look like them, and children that look like everyone else. It’s really important to show our kids something beyond themselves. They have to be able to see everyone and be comfortable with everyone. Parents have to be a lot more open with them, honest with them and accepting of them.

How do you speak to your children about voting and the role that each individual plays in democracy? How do you get them excited long before they can vote?

With voting, I make sure to push that the presidential election is not the only one, local is in my opinion more effective. If you’re able to vote in your local election and are able to get things done in your neighborhood, that’s a lot more effective for your kids. This is their world. These ten blocks are their world. If they understand that they have a choice in changing something that they don’t like in their neighborhood, that’s a big deal.

For parents looking to do something like a children’s march or protest in their area, local is the way to go. Make sure that you are really doing it for them and on their behalf, and that it's not something that's only important to you. It’s important to hear them out and then work with them. Ask your kids, see what your kids are passionate about right now and start there.