When Nicolette Ferguson went to her 11-year old son’s parent-teacher meeting at Rochester’s Penfield Central School District, she had planned to complain to someone. They were teaching African American history only during Black history month, and this didn’t include education about contemporary social injustices But when she went there, she noticed something even more disturbing. She couldn’t find even one Black faculty member out of the 477 members on staff. That’s when she knew she had to take matters into her own hands.
In July and September, Ferguson and six other mothers from Penfield district, organized two Black Kids Matter rallies at the Harris Whalen Park for children 12 and under, to make them more aware of the issues that their schools wouldn’t talk about. These moms, who had never met before, organized everything over online zoom calls during the pandemic. They met one night before the rally at the park with their children, in order to make signs for the next day.
“The school says they will look into it, but they never really do, you know,” Ferguson said. “And if they can’t talk to the kids, both Black and white, about this important stuff, then we moms have got to do it.”
It wasn’t only black children and their mothers, but people of all colours and nationalities who joined both the rallies, creating an inclusive and cohesive space.
“Penfield is a very white community with a lot of redlining and segregation, and I definitely don’t want my white children to be one of those perpetrators, I want them to be allies,” Stacy Phillips, one of the white mothers who co-organized the rally said. “I want to raise decent human beings who are aware of these issues and aren’t afraid to take a stand.”
These mothers attempted to emulate the Black Kids Matter march that took place at Brooklyn in 2020, along with their own additions to it. This included a sign-making session, a short march of five blocks, and a story-telling session, followed by an outdoor debriefing by the mothers.
“The whole point of this kid-friendly format of storytelling, the debriefing and everything is so that we can have these difficult conversations with our kids in a way that’s not jarring,” Ferguson said. “Some protests just aren’t age-appropriate, like we don’t want them thinking about police, pepper spray, petitions already.”
The rally even included an open stage which opened the microphone to all the children and gave them a chance to talk about their personal experiences with race, sing a song, or express themselves in any way they liked.
“After all, we wanted this to be an empowering and celebratory event of Black lives and Black joy and Black hope where all the kids were comfortable to speak what they felt,” Ferguson said. “And most importantly, we wanted to remind these Black kids just how much they matter.”