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Children speak up at George Floyd memorial amid their parents' hopes and fears

NEW YORK (Reuters) - At a New York City memorial for George Floyd on Thursday, Corte Ellis held a sign he had made using a piece of cardboard from a broken-down box. The 10-year-old had written some of Floyd’s final words: “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”

Tawana Boatwright with her boyfriend Christopher and her daughters Skylar, 11, and Leia, 7, attend a memorial in Brooklyn's Cadman Plaza Park for George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis police custody, in New York, U.S. June 4, 2020. REUTERS/Michelle Nichols

Corte was among many children at the vigil for Floyd, the black man whose death while in the custody of a white police officer in Minneapolis set off a wave of nationwide protests and ignited a debate about race and justice.

“I’m here to protest for George Floyd because he didn’t deserve to die,” said Corte, who was accompanied by his stepfather, Timothy Walker, and almost-2-year-old brother, Cody.

Seeing the crowd stream into Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn, Corte said, “It’s good because it tells me how many people are willing to go so far to get rights.”

Walker, 54, said he took the boys to the memorial because it was important for them to understand racial inequality.

Kallai Brooks, 36, attended the vigil with his wife, Alisha, 34, and their sons, ages 8 and 3.

“They need to know just as much as I have to know what we’re facing. At the same time, as much as there are people in this world who want to do harm, there are a lot of people who care and love each other, so they have to see both sides,” Brooks said.

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Julian Brizzi, 37, also took his sons, ages 6 and 2, to the memorial in Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza Park, which was attended by a diverse crowd of thousands of people, because he said it was important for them to see it and be a part of it.

“We’re just trying to have as honest a conversation as possible without sort of terribly scarring their vision of the world,” Brizzi said about talking to his sons. “Understanding privilege and understanding oppression at a young age is not something that’s detrimental to a child.”

Six-year-old Jack Brizzi held a sign he had written himself: “Cops shudint kil peepel.”

Derrick and Michelle Johnson took their 3-year-old daughter, Charlotte, to the vigil. Michelle Johnson, 35, is eight months pregnant and spoke about the pending birth of the couple’s biracial son.

“I feel a lot of anger and sadness that this is still happening and having a boy is scary at this time. We’re hoping for change and positive things to come out of this,” she said.

Derrick Johnson said the couple would soon have to speak about race with Charlotte. “It’s really important for us to have a presence here and show her ... we’re not going to stand for this kind of thing,” he said.

Tawana Boatwright, 33, attended the Floyd memorial with her daughters Skylar, 11, and Leia, 7.

“It’s hard to explain. They don’t really understand,” Boatwright said. “They know a man who was unarmed was killed and that’s all they know. Their dad is an unarmed black man and my boyfriend is an unarmed black man.”

Leia had drawn her own sign: “Black lives matter, we have voices.”

“I feel happy for being here because the murder of George Floyd, it wasn’t nice of the cops to do that,” Leia said. “No matter what skin color you are, you still are loved.”

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Leslie Adler