Aidan Sykes was just 6 years old when he joined his dad, Albert, to protest the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. They've been attending protests against racial injustice ever since.
In a conversation recorded at StoryCorps five years ago, Albert told Aidan, then 9, that one of the reasons he brings him to protests is to show him "what it looks like when people come together."
This week, Albert and Aidan, who are both black, followed up on their StoryCorps interview to talk about the recent protests against police brutality that were set off by the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
"What do you think about the protests that are happening now?" Aidan, now 14, asked his dad.
"I hate that they're necessary, but I also appreciate that we're living in a world that we borrowed to be able to give back to the folks who come behind us," Albert, 36, said. "Your responsibility when you borrow something is to give it back in the same condition, but if you can give it back in better condition, that's the goal."
Albert went to the protests this past Saturday in Jackson, Miss., with his three sons. Aidan, the eldest, said he was happy to see such a diverse crowd chanting "black lives matter."
"I saw a lot of young people like me out there — people of all ages and all colors and all shapes and all sizes — and I was like, at least we got some back up," he said.
What makes this moment especially tough, Aidan said, is being able to identify with the black men and women who have died as the result of racism and police brutality.
"The hardest part is knowing that could have been me. And Breonna Taylor could have been my mother," he said, referring to the 26-year-old woman who was fatally shot by police in Louisville, Ky., at her apartment in the middle of the night.
His dad is proud of how his son, who turns 15 next month, is maturing. But, as he nears manhood, Albert also worries about Aidan's safety because he is black.
"You're growing up, getting so tall and getting hair on your face, and just your presence — some places, people don't see the child in you," he said. "They don't see the innocence in you. Even though you're not a threat, you're still perceived as a threat."
"But when I look at you, not only do I see somebody who looks just like me, I see a beautiful kid coming into understanding himself," Albert told Aidan. "I see somebody who makes me proud, up and down."
"Being black is one of the best things and one of the most beautiful things you could ever be," Aidan said, "but it's like you always have a target on your back."
Albert told his son that it's important to keep his head up.
"I want you to always understand that you was born with everything it takes for you to survive in this world, so keep the wind pushing you forward and you keep the sun shining on your face," he said.
"I mean, we have talks about how much you mean to me," Albert told his son, "and things that I have learned from you are how to love endlessly, and I tell people, like, that's my hero."
"Knowing that I'm your hero is one of the best things I could ever hear," Aidan said. "The most important lesson I've learned from you is, when you want something, keep fighting for it. Don't let nobody tell you you can't and, no matter who or what gets in your way, keep going."
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jud Esty-Kendall.
StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.
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