The “Kids Peace Movement,” organized by mothers Kristina Cubero and Rachel Vargas, was created to acknowledge children’s need to “understand, be heard and recognized,” as the Black Lives Matter movement for racial justice carries on locally and globally.
The event took place on Sunday, June 7, at Grover Cleveland Park in Ridgewood, and was hosted by celebrity hairstylist Stacy Gray.
Various speakers, most of whom are based in Brooklyn, addressed the dozens of children, parents and community members — who gathered at the park with masks and signs of solidarity — about the importance of understanding the movement and building unity within the community.
“Black Lives Matter foundation is a global organization whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene violence inflicted on Black communities by combatting and countering acts of violence and by creating spaces for Black imagination, innovation and centering Black joy,” said Triniti Slaughter, a rising junior at Cornell University.
Some of the day’s speakers included creator Yani Richards, artists Alex Tyree and Cavier Coleman, as well as author of “Once a Cop” and retired NYPD commanding officer of 67th Precinct in Brooklyn Corey Pegues. Two kids also spoke, including Gray’s 9-year-old son, Emmanuel Gray.
Emmanuel read an essay about the confusion he’s experienced by seeing innocent men like George Floyd and 12-year-old Tamir Rice killed by police officers.
“Statistics state that one in 1,000 young Black males have died at the hands of the police. This is scary to me because I’ve always looked up to the police as protectors and role models in our community. But as I’m getting older and older, it’s becoming more confusing to me when I hear the stories of Black males being harassed and killed … just because our skin color appears to be a threat,” Emmanuel said.
“When we have leaders that act like kids, us kids have to have the ability to become the new leaders,” he added, ending his speech by giving some ways we can end racial profiling, like “getting to know people from other races.”
Cubero, with a background in event production who grew up in Ridgewood, said the event came together in about five days. She was surprised how much help and donations she received from the community — like speakers, 1,500 cookies, water bottles and bubbles.
“We actually came up with the Kids Peace Movement, here in the park,” Cubero, of Ecuadorian and Puerto Rican descent, said. “I just felt called to do it for my 10-year-old daughter, and felt called to do it for the community.”
Vargas, whose daughter is best friends with Cubero’s daughter, thought it was important to create an environment where they could educate themselves and fellow parents who may be struggling to explain what’s going on.
“We sat down together just having a very powerful conversation about racism and the injustices that we saw growing up in Bushwick and Ridgewood, and just sharing how our upbringing maybe had conditioned us somehow,” Vargas, who is of Dominican descent, said.
“We understood that we had to be better,” she said. “And as our girls are playing on the playground we said, ‘We need to teach them so much better,’ because they’re the future, and they’re the ones that are really going to keep the momentum going. We wanted something where the kids could express themselves and really come together, and see that they had power and weren’t powerless, because there was a lot of confusion and fear.”
Vargas added that they created resources for parents to use during this time.
Bed-Stuy resident Alejandro Jhonson attended the event with his wife, Natalia, and his energetic three-year-old son, James. He said his wife was made aware of the event through Whatsapp messages and social media.
“I’m 50 years old, so I’ve been through all of these things, but it’s good to have [James] exposed … it was good for him to get some fresh air and be around this,” Jhonson said. “He has older siblings, but they’re out doing the regular marching.”
After some downtime and a performance by local musician, Letta J, the attendees marched toward Maria Hernandez Park in Bushwick, escorted by the 104th Precinct.
Chants of “Black Lives Matter,” “Who are we? We are the future!” and “George Floyd / Breonna Taylor / Rest in Peace / Rest in Power” were accompanied by beats from a local musician.
— Angélica M. Acevedo (@angacevedo15) June 7, 2020
As they marched down Woodward Avenue and Troutman Street, bystanders cheered them on by popping their heads out of their apartment windows, ringing bells and banging on pots (cacerolazos) and cars honking in solidarity.
Once they reached Maria Hernandez Park, participants gathered around in a circle for a moment of silence for Floyd and countless other police brutality victims, followed by a chorus of some of the victims’ names.
Some more community members spoke about educating the youth and dismantling the system that has let racism persist, not only in the criminal system but other aspects of life in the United States like education.
By 3:30 p.m., the event ended.
Heidi Peña, a 24-year-old educator with a sign that read “Las Vidas Negras Importan” (spanish translation of “Black Lives Matter”), came all the way from Ozone Park to be a part of the Kids Peace Movement.
“We all have to show up and show out because inequality toward Black communities has gone on for far too long, and we as a nation can’t move forward without restoratively addressing the issues,” Peña said.
Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee visited the event for a few minutes at Grover Cleveland Park.
“The smallest voices are often the loudest,” she told QNS. “This Kid’s Protest was clearly organized with love to build a future that is anti-racist, more just and more equitable than today, deeply committed to a new normal.”