Over the past 11 days, Requel McKeever showed her son videos of the protests that have sprung up across the country in response to the killing of Minnesota man George Floyd.
They watched as thousands marched for justice, including many in Richmond. They talked about black culture and growing up as a black child. On Sunday, they marched for themselves.
“He needs to see that his life matters and be part of this unification,” McKeever said.
Walking from Chimborazo Park in Richmond to 25th Street and back, she held a sign that simply said, “My Sons’ Lives Matter — Signed A Black Mom,” while her son Rikye, 10, held one that read, “My Life Matters — Signed A Black Boy.”
“This is a time for him to see that he has a voice,” Raquel said of her fourth-grader.
Hundreds of other people agreed. The children of Richmond traded the playground for the streets of Church Hill on Sunday, demanding justice for the killing of Floyd and other victims of police brutality, while asking for recognition in a city where nearly two in three students are black.
Families marched with wagons and strollers. Children rode bikes along the route, which police aided in helping to block off. Staff at the nearby Bellevue Elementary passed out water bottles to protesters.
It was exactly what Tanesha Powell, a former teacher who now works at a city nonprofit that gives students outdoor experiences, envisioned.
Her daughter, a 10-year-old who attends school in Henrico County, had wanted to be a part of the growing number of demonstrations, but Powell didn’t feel it was safe for her to attend the protests, most of which have been peaceful.
There was extensive vandalism in the second night of protests.
Powell decided to organize Sunday’s event, formally called the “Mindfulness March for Kids,” to give parents in the same situation a chance to take part in the activism with their children.
“This showed that Richmond is united against injustice and willing to educate their kids on the ways to properly treat one another,” Powell said.
She started the rally in Chimborazo Park by putting on her teacher hat and reading “Not My Idea: A Book about Whiteness” to the parents and students. The children’s book talks about racism while inviting white people to pursue justice.
The group of roughly 1,000 people marched from the park down Broad Street to 25th Street, where they stopped for nine minutes — roughly the same amount of time as a Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck while detaining him.
There, they used “all of our breath to shout for justice,” as Powell described.
Chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe” rang out on the corner and again on the walk back to the park. Children held signs that read “Kids for Justice” and shouted — sometimes with a bit of a youthful squeak — that “I am the change.”
Among those walking were Michael and Jenna Ross, the latter of whom teaches fourth grade in the city. They brought their biracial daughter and son, wanting them to see from a young age that racism is not OK and that they should stand up for what they believe.
“I want to show them that change can happen,” Michael Ross said.
Thousands of people marched from St. Paul’s Baptist Church and down Creighton Road to the Eastern Henrico County Recreation Center on North Laburnum Avenue. They chanted George Floyd’s name as they walked along the nearly 2-mile route.
“Systematic racism and injustice has been [here] since the founding of our country. It’s never been addressed. It’s never been dealt with,” said Brandi Rainer, a 42-year-old Chesterfield County resident, as she marched on the road. “I just think we now are at a place, especially with the [cellphone] cameras, where it can’t be denied.”
Craig Watson joined Sunday’s march because he is “tired and frustrated,” adding that the country has to do better.
“Equity is not existent. I’m walking for equity. I’m walking for my black and brown people that just don’t get seen, and their voices don’t get heard,” said Watson, 45, of Henrico. “They’re going to hear us.”
Drones hovered as a long line of marchers headed down Creighton Road, which police closed to traffic. People standing by the side of the road offered water and encouragement.
“No matter what color we are, we all still got the same blood. We all should just get along,” said Ramon Canady, 41, of Henrico, as the marchers passed by the Kensington Meadows subdivision. “We are all family. This racism has got to stop.”
Nearby, John Lock was sitting by the side of the road with a sign that said, “It could have been my son.”
Lock, an African American man who has three sons and three daughters, said he lives with the fear that someday they could experience violence at the hands of police.
“And that’s sad to even have that on your conscience and on your mind when it shouldn’t even be like that,” said Lock, 69, of Henrico.
At the recreation center, speakers urged members of the march to fill out their U.S. Census forms, and they called for children in the eastern part of the county to get the same quality education as those attending schools in the affluent western part of the county.
“We wanted to give citizens a platform to directly speak to us about what their concerns are and what legislation they want to see put forth,” said Tyrone Nelson, a Henrico supervisor who helped organize the protest, during an interview.
Nelson said that while the protest brought out attendees, the key thing to keep in mind is that people need to stay engaged with the policymaking process.
Organizers said thousands attended the march. Roscoe Cooper III, the Henrico School Board chairman who helped organize the event, said he agreed with one estimate that put the size of the crowd at roughly 5,000.
“We have to fight systematic racism, we’ve got to deal with police brutality and social injustice, and we need our voices heard. But we also need our presence felt,” Cooper said in an interview. “I think this is just the beginning, not the end. This starts the conversation.”
While that crowd marched in Henrico, about 100 faith leaders from across the Richmond area gathered at the African Burial Ground at 15th and Broad streets.
What was essentially a midafternoon church service filled with singing, dancing and prayer brought people from many denominations together. They urged one another to confront racism in the city, saying enough is enough.
“This is the shift. This is the revolution. This is what we have been waiting for,” said Corey Goss, the student pastor at Hill City Church. “We cannot be silent.”