Family, Kids & Relationships

How parents are balancing family life and safety with social activism

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It’s an understatement to say that we’re living in a time of heightened political activism. Whether you’re trying to find ways to show up for anti-racist actions while acting as the primary caregiver for young kids, or you’re looking for ways to support your kid’s strong convictions while keeping them safe, here are some inspiring examples of families who are committed to social justice activism.

How do these activists juggle all of the community-oriented work on top of the already tough work of caring for family? The secret seems to be making it a family affair.

Parents finding time for activism

When parents of young children are trying to stay socially or politically active, the time, energy, and logistical challenges are very real. Jocelyn Jane Cox is a co-founder of Rockland United, a grassroots organization in Rockland County, New York, that mobilizes community members to take political action. She logs so much time doing political activism that she’s struggled with finding the balance while raising her son, who was just four years old when she took on this role.

One of her strategies, as she shared with Scary Mommy, has been to build childcare, playdates, and social time into her activist work. “I have had to let go of a lot of social events and purely fun extracurricular events in order to do this,” she says. “The good news is that my friendships and social life have dovetailed with my activism. Through this work, I have found a whole new crew of like-minded friends, and I have gotten to know them really well, really fast.” Her organization’s meetings and events often include shared childcare so that the kids can have fun while the adults make decisions.

Jocelyn stays motivated by thinking about family: “I’m doing this for my son, and my concern for all our kids. Our democracy, our free speech, our safety is at stake, and I have to do everything within my power to help.”

Another strategy some parent activists have taken is to organize “playdate protests.” Dionne Luakaw of Quincy, Massachusetts, took her two young kids, a seven-year-old and a nine-month-old baby, to a labor strike at a local Stop & Shop grocery store headquarters to support the workers’ demands.

“It’s a way to get my kids involved and get them away from the TV and let them see what matters. And this really matters,” Dionne explained to the Patriot Ledger. She and about 20 other parents and kids occupied the sidewalk, making signs, using sidewalk chalk and noisemakers, singing songs together, and reading books about labor leaders.

“We hope to educate kids about labor and the importance of strikes and unions. We hope they have a fun day together and show the Stop & Shop workers that we and the entire community really support them,” said Lily Huang, a co-director of Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, one of the organizers of the event.

And when getting out to protests isn’t possible? Technology is bringing activism to families’ living rooms.

Tens of thousands of families showed up to the Families Virtual Protest For Black Lives with co-hosts Moms Rising, the Women’s March, and the Working Families Party. Parents and children were able to listen to inspiring speakers, show off their protest signs, and make their voices heard, even if they were unable to attend in-person events—an option that helped make activism accessible to parents with unusual schedules, medical issues, or those who were unable to attend in-person events due to concerns about violence or coronavirus exposure. Ailen Arreaza, mother of two and one of the event’s organizers at ParentsTogether, spoke for all parents in attendance when she said, “I want a better life for my own children, a brighter future for all kids” while standing shoulder-to-shoulder with her family.

Supporting activist kids

When kids themselves are passionate about a cause, supportive parents can encourage them to take the lead. At eight years old, Mari Copeny of Flint, Michigan, wrote a letter to President Barack Obama to draw more attention to her city’s water crisis. And, as her mother Lulu Brezell related to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “She started dragging us out to go to all of these meetings, rallies and protests.”

Not only did the President write back and travel to Flint to meet with Mari, but Mari also began organizing water distribution for local residents, raising money for water filters, and supporting kids in her community in other ways like with school supply drives. She has become influential on social media, has spoken to crowds across the country, and regularly uses her platform to raise awareness of other social justice issues.

Her mom Lulu spoke to Parents magazine about how she’s adjusted to Mari’s strong activist spirit: “She’s very outspoken. And it’s like, yes, she’s challenging all these people, but at the same time, she’s at home challenging me.” If her mom thinks Mari is taking on too much, Mari will insist, “This is what you taught me to do.” And usually, her mom has to agree to let Mari keep on trying.

One major way that Mari’s mother supports her now-12-year-old’s work and helps keep her safe is by managing her social media accounts, monitoring them for safety and privacy concerns, and screening out the trolls and “creeps.” She lets Mari do the talking though.

Other families have found ways to turn their hobbies into projects benefiting the community. At age 10, Sidney Keys III of Missouri went to a bookstore focusing on African American literature with his mom, Winnie Caldwell. His world was opened up as he discovered the fun that could be had reading books featuring Black characters. He was so inspired that he started a book club called Books n Bros for boys age 7 to 13, so he could share his joy of books while supporting Black representation in children’s literature and helping boys improve literacy skills.

His first book club meetup had just seven attendees, but the popularity of the events grew rapidly in the St. Louis area. Sidney and his mother have turned the club into a membership business—with sponsorships available for those who can’t afford to join. They hope to expand the program into schools soon. Now Sidney, 15, is being asked to speak in front of thousands about his initiative to make reading cool for Black boys.

“Not to make it sound corny, but my mom really encouraged me,” Sidney told the St. Louis American. “She’s helped me a lot with thinking that you’re never too young to make a difference in the world.”

The book program is a partnership between Sidney and Winnie, who coordinates the schedules and curriculum. “It’s created a bond that we haven’t had before,” his mom revealed about their working together. “Sidney has been my cheerleader as much as I have been his.”

Like parenting, being socially and politically active pushes us out of our comfort zones and redefines what we thought we could accomplish. Even if it can seem overwhelming at times, there are ways to keep your family safe and cared for, while caring for the greater community. And what better way to raise the next generation of change makers?

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.