Parents See Black Lives Matter Plaza As Educational Opportunity With summer camp canceled and museums shuttered, families are bringing their children to Black Lives Matter Plaza to affirm their self-worth and learn about tolerance.
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Parents See Black Lives Matter Plaza As Educational Opportunity

Parents See Black Lives Matter Plaza As Educational Opportunity

Parents See Black Lives Matter Plaza As Educational Opportunity

Parents See Black Lives Matter Plaza As Educational Opportunity

Latavia Huntley holds her son Tariq outside St. John's Episcopal Church near the White House Wednesday. She said she hoped to instill in him "that his life has worth." Daniella Cheslow/WAMU hide caption

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Daniella Cheslow/WAMU

Latavia Huntley brought her 3-year-old son Tariq to the stretch of H Street lining Lafayette Square Wednesday morning and said they spent about two hours walking where protesters marched days before.

"No justice, no peace," Huntley said to her son.

"No justice, no peace," he answered from beneath the brim of a Spiderman hat.

She was among a morning flurry of parents to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza with their children. Some came to grieve George Floyd, a black man killed by police. Others hoped to inculcate their children with values of tolerance and compassion, and they thought the plaza, dedicated June 5, was the ideal teacher.

Huntley, a social work student living in Southeast D.C., said she hoped her son would internalize the message of the giant yellow letters painted on 16th Street.

"So when he looks at it, and he sees Black Lives Matter, he'll automatically resonate with himself," she said. "Like he matters, it will help increase his worth as an individual."

The families walked on streets where just days ago, federal law enforcement fired smoke canisters and chemical irritants at protesters. Signs of tumult remained. Boards covered the windows of most of the nearby buildings, from the AFL-CIO union headquarters where protesters lit a fire in the lobby, to the Teaism shop that was looted. A black fence still stretched in a wide perimeter around the White House, blocking off Lafayette Square, the Ellipse and the White House Sidewalk even as protests have remained peaceful for days.

Pragna Soni, right, Taran Sodhi and their son, Dev drove to Black Lives Matter Plaza from Arlington, Va. Wednesday. The parents hoped to learn about the protests and teach their son tolerance. Daniella Cheslow/WAMU hide caption

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Daniella Cheslow/WAMU

That sense of calm drew Taran Sodhi and Pragna Soni from Arlington with their son, Dev. Sodhi said they watched news coverage of the protests and sympathized, but did not want to bring their 3-year-old to an unpredictable demonstration. By Wednesday they felt at ease walking along the streets and showed Dev posters depicting Floyd and other black victims of police.

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"What did you learn about what's happening here today?" Soni asked Dev.

"Some white people don't like people that have brown skin," he answered, from behind a tiny mask.

"And should you tell people about things when people are not treating people well?" Soni continued.

"Yes," he replied.

It was poignant for the two parents, both the children of Indian immigrants. Soni said one day, she may have to talk to her son about people who don't like him for his skin color either.

"I worry about it because he's going to be perceived as brown or black. Either way, he's going to have to face some of the same issues if we're still over-policing our communities," she said.

Kaitlyn Saunders, 9, visited Black Lives Matter Plaza Wednesday with her parents for the chance to skate and dance. "It's a once in a lifetime experience," she said. Tyrone Turner/WAMU hide caption

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Tyrone Turner/WAMU

For other families, the memorial served as a reminder of their vitality. Katrice Saunders, a consultant, brought her 9-year-old daughter to Black Lives Matter Plaza for the thrill of figure skating at the historic spot. Kaitlyn spun in a white and yellow dress, her hair pulled high above her head. Behind her, a banner proclaiming "Black Lives Matter" hung from two traffic lights, obscuring the view of the White House.

"It's kind of a once in a lifetime experience," Kaitlyn observed.

She said she asked her parents to film her dancing on the protest site because she felt seen, as an African American girl.

"It's just amazing how many people understand about black lives and how many people are able to march and protest," she said.

Saunders said she wanted to show her daughter the site — but she hoped the fence in front of Lafayette Square would soon come down.

"The government is for all people. We live in Washington, D.C. and we are used to coming down to the White House for the garden tours and having access to the White House," she said.

The site is constantly changing. When the new White House fence went up, protesters covered it in posters. By Wednesday morning, expecting the newly emptied fence to be removed, activists had moved the posters across the street. Workers lifted concrete barriers off the fence on Constitution Avenue Wednesday, a step toward removing the segments south of the White House. Early Thursday morning, the park reopened to the public and city workers began removing the fence on H Street during the afternoon.

Even as the fence gets removed, Black Lives Matter Plaza is expected to retain a special character. LaToya Foster, spokeswoman for D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, said the plaza would remain closed to vehicular traffic for the foreseeable future, although she expected cars to return to H and I Streets."

The plaza has become a crossroads for the city. Huntley said she was not expecting to cry when she brought her son for a walk. Her stature was more defensive: growing up in Charlotte, N.C., Huntley said she had "so many times" when police pulled her over, triggering near-constant anxiety, and she worried her son would face the same future. She said she was moved, however, seeing other families teaching their children.

"Over there, I saw a Caucasian lady, her sister and all their kids," she said. "They hand made these posters just spreading messages of love and support and Black Lives Matter ... this is where we begin to bridge the gap in between love and hate."

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