These can be scary times for kids, dealing with a threat they can't see.
Kevin Powell, an author of 14 books, including "The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood," is openly and honestly addressing kids' fears about the coronavirus pandemic in a moving letter capturing attention.
The Brooklyn-based activist and journalist has spent the past month visiting families in all five boroughs of New York City documenting what's happening to our communities.
"I've lived through 9/11, I've lived through some other stuff that's happened in our country and I just felt compelled to do something to help tell the story and give people some hope," Powell told ABC News. "And one day, [a nine-year-old named Lexington, his mother] said to me just a couple days ago that he's really going through a great deal of depression and sadness. And I actually have known him since he was five years old. He's now nine years old. And I said, well, let me talk to him on the phone. He was very hesitant to share. It's almost like he kind of felt ashamed that he was crying and that he was sad about what's happening. And I said to myself, this has got to be a lot of children ... If this nine year old is feeling this way, imagine all the kids, no matter what their backgrounds around the country who are losing sleep, having nightmares the way he is, who are feeling afraid, are afraid to go outside and are having a hard time."
"After I hung up the phone with him, I didn't adequately give him the words that he needed. And so that's why I decided to write the letter."
Channeling his inner Mister Rogers -- "who we all love, generation to generation," said Powell -- he penned a letter to Lexington, which he explains is really meant to speak to all children, all across the country, and even adults.
"It's really about all of us. It's also about the children in all of us, because there's adults going through it as well. I had nightmares practically every night. And so I want to write something that was really honest and open and really spoke to, honestly, the inner child in all of us that's trying to figure this thing out because we're all trying to figure it out."
The letter, which has now captured plenty of attention, is reprinted in full below.
"This pandemic has forced us to rethink what's important to us and I think that's something that can be conveyed to children. Love is important. Kindness is important. Compassion is important," Powell said. "This is an incredible opportunity to teach children about compassion and kindness and love and never forgetting that we're all in this together."
I am scared, too, I have been crying, too, I have nightmares, too -- these are the words I should have said to you yesterday on the phone, but did not, so I say them today. Your mother shared with me what you have been going through during the course of this coronavirus pandemic. You are not alone. Once upon a time I was a nine-year-old child, and many things shook my soul, interrupted my sleep, made me afraid of the dark, made me hold tight to my single mother, just as you hold tight to your single mother. There were many things I did not understand, back then, but I remember hearing words like “Vietnam” and “Watergate” and “recession” a lot, and I thought those words were coming to get me. I remember, like you, being profoundly sad, wanting to scream, become invisible, and feeling mightily stuck in my fear and pain.
But I need you to know this is part of the journey. Nothing could have prepared me for the many pandemics of my life: the ugly poverty, the racism, violence everywhere, those dreadful periods of loneliness of being a highly sensitive only child, just like you are a highly sensitive only child. Kids would mock or dis me, like kids mock or dis you. Kids would say something is wrong with me, as kids have said something is wrong with you. Kids would refuse to engage or play with me outside, as kids have refused to engage or play with you online during this time of human isolation. I am here to say that you are not the problem, that you are who I wish I could have been when I was nine-years-old: a boy very much in touch with his feelings, because you are a genius and a gift to your mother, to me, to this entire world.
Honestly, I have not thought of dying so much since I was a little boy.
But I will not lie to you. I am worried every day by what has happened to our beloved New York City, to our country, to our planet, because of this global pandemic. I personally know people who have died, including friends, people I have worked with or admired, and one of my cousins. Or I am just one degree separated from someone who was taken down by COVID-19, someone’s mother or father or some other relative. Or I know people who are nurses, doctors, employees in supermarkets and restaurants, or other frontline workers, sacrificing themselves, some because they have no other choice financially. My heart hurts badly thinking about these many people and their families.
I live this hurt daily, as you do, even if it is something as simple as checking mail, or going for a quick walk, or shopping at the grocery store. Will my mask and gloves really protect me, should I be outside? I have gone days not wanting to leave home, just like you have not wanted to leave home. I am terrified, as a human being, as a black person, of catching the virus, because of the scary statistics. And because I am both an activist and a journalist, I absorb news updates about the coronavirus regularly which, I am sure, has contributed to the worst nightmares I have ever had. Honestly, I have not thought of dying so much since I was a little boy hearing stories from my mother about kinfolks who had died, or the sermons in our church, which always seemed to be a lesson about the small gap between life and death.
So I understand you, I know what you are feeling, what you are carrying, because I am you. I am here to tell you that you can call me any time, to talk, to yell, to be silent and just breathe, to cry, and I will cry with you. I am here to tell you not to become like some in this moment where hate is as necessary to them as their heartbeats. I am here to tell you to never become mean or cold-hearted or a bully, in spite of what you might see or hear all around you.
And I am here to tell you that I do not know what is going to happen to our city, to our country, to our world, but what gives me hope is that I am seeing the best of us as Americans, as human beings, coming together, helping each other, feeding each other, caring for each other. It reminds me so much of what I witnessed after September 11th here in New York; it reminds me so much of what I experienced for a year doing relief work back and forth in the American South after Hurricane Katrina.
We cannot allow this to defeat or destroy us.
What I am saying is that we cannot allow this to defeat or destroy us. No, everything will not be completely fine right away. There will be more deaths, more tears, more depression, this I know. There will be more false starts and false promises from some of our leaders, this I know.
But for those of us who will survive this, like you, like me, we must commit everything we can, to do better, to be better, to love and honor every human being, to love and honor our earth, to be the consistent kindness and healing and forgiveness and love we need to see, for the rest of our lives.
Kevin Powell is a poet, journalist, and the author of 14 books, including his autobiography, "The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood." He lives in Brooklyn, New York.