From Trayvon Martin To George Floyd, A Dad And Son Keep Protesting For Equality

Jun 12, 2020
Originally published on June 12, 2020 11:42 am

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 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 backup," 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.

Albert is proud of how his son, who turns 15 next month, is maturing. But, as Aidan nears manhood, Albert also worries about his 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.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Last week on StoryCorps, we heard from Albert Sykes and his son, Aidan. They live in Jackson, Miss. Aiden was 9 years old when they recorded that conversation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

AIDAN SYKES: Why do you take me to protests so much?

ALBERT SYKES: (Laughter) I think I take you for a bunch of reasons. One is that I want you to see what it looks like when people come together, but also that you understand that it's not just about people that are familiar to you. But it's about everybody. Did you know the work that Martin Luther King was doing was for everybody, and it wasn't just for black people?

AIDAN SYKES: Yes. I understand that.

MARTIN: That was five years ago. This week, StoryCorps invited them back to record another interview.

AIDAN SYKES: What do you think about the protests that are happening now?

ALBERT SYKES: I hate that they necessary. But I also appreciate that we living in a world that we borrowed to be able to give back to the folks who come behind us. And 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. So the protests that you were just at on Saturday in Jackson, when you looked around, how did you take that in?

AIDAN SYKES: Oh, I was happy because 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 backup.

ALBERT SYKES: What's been the hardest part of dealing with all of this for you?

AIDAN SYKES: The hardest part is knowing that could've been me. And Breonna Taylor could've been my mother.

ALBERT SYKES: Next month, you turn 15. 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. They don't see the innocence in you. Even though you 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. I see somebody who makes me proud, up and down.

AIDAN SYKES: Being black, it's one of the best things and one of the most beautiful things you could ever be. But it's like you always have a target on your back.

ALBERT SYKES: Yeah. I want you to always understand that you was born with everything it take for you to survive in this world. So keep the wind pushing you forward. And you keep the sun shining on your face. I mean, we had talks about how much you mean to me and things that I have learned from you - how to love endlessly. And I tell people, like, that's my hero.

AIDAN SYKES: Knowing that I'm your hero is one of the best things I could ever hear. And 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "SURLY BONDS")

MARTIN: Aidan Sykes talking with his dad, Albert. They recorded this interview using StoryCorps Connect. And their conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.