Since the death of George Floyd, we’ve seen so many powerful photos from the protests — images that have filled up social-media feeds and resonated with people all over the world.
One of these earliest photos was of a young boy in Atlanta, wearing a blue face mask and black “Star Wars” T-shirt, raising his fist in front of police holding riot shields.
The photo, taken May 31 by Elijah Nouvelage for Getty Images, made the boy a face of the protest movement and inspired many to create artwork based on him.
“This photo tells a story, capturing the hope as well as the hurt,” said Kaye Bishop, a teacher who lives in New Bedford, Connecticut, and painted the scene. “This boy is the future.”
The boy in the photo is Kai Ayden, a 7-year-old who lives in Alpharetta, Georgia, a suburb north of Atlanta.
His mother, Handyna Thezan, said Kai hadn’t been exposed to much of what was going on in Atlanta or around the country. She had been keeping television and media at a minimum, to protect him.
“I thought long and hard to decide whether or not I wanted Kai to even know what was going on,” she said.
A discussion with a friend changed her thinking.
“He said: ‘You can’t you can’t shield (Kai) from it. This will be part of his life if nothing changes. So you can’t shield him, not as smart and intelligent as he is. You can’t do that to him.’ “
Thezan thought about it and then started talking with her son.
Kai already knew all about Martin Luther King Jr. He’s learned about him in school. He’s visited the King Center in Atlanta. He’s a big fan.
So he was a little confused when he heard about what was still going on in the world.
“Martin said the speech already, so this shouldn’t be an issue,” he told his mom. “It shouldn’t be where I’m afraid, because Martin Luther King Jr. did it already. He gave the speech. I heard the speech.”
His mom explained to him that the fight for racial justice “is still ongoing. It’s something that we still have to continue fighting for.”
Thezan turned on the TV and showed Kai the protests and explained how close they were.
“He said: ‘I want to go see. Maybe if they hear me, maybe if they see me, they’ll stop,’ ” his mother said.
Kai and his mother were outside the CNN Center in Atlanta when he raised his fist and Nouvelage took his photo. The whole time, he was saying “I’m Martin Luther King Jr.! I will be the next Martin Luther King Jr.!”
“He kept that fist up,” his mom said. “He said: ‘I have to be the next Martin Luther King Jr. If he didn’t finish from the speech that he gave so long ago, I have to have to tell them that I’m Martin Luther King Jr.’ And I was just amazed. It made me emotional.”
Kai wasn’t scared at all, Thezan said. He seemed to be right in his element. In another photo taken by Nouvelage, Kai is fist-bumping one of the police officers.
“It showed me how pure these children’s minds are,” Thezan said. “The next day, he said: ‘Mommy, I felt as if I had protection on both sides. The police were behind me. They protected me, and all the (protesters) were protecting me.’ “
Thezan has seen much of the artwork that her son has inspired, and she has shared it with him.
“He said: ‘Maybe now they’ll stop. Maybe now they’ll respect us after seeing my photo.’ He really believes in it,” she said.
She still limits how much of the news she wants him to be exposed to, but she’s ordered quite a few children’s books on activism. He picked them out and made a list on his iPad.
“He doesn’t get enough of learning,” Thezan said. “If you tell him something, he has to go and find out on his own.”
Kai loves documentaries, his mom said. He also loves the outdoors, basketball (he’s a big Kobe Bryant fan) and his 3-year-old little sister.
“He’s a great kid. He’s very mature, very sweet,” Thezan said. “Sometimes I say, ‘Have you been here before?’ And he laughs at me and he says, “I think so, Mommy, I think so.’ “