Updated Fri, Aug 22, 2014 5:24 pm
When Jay Mattson turned 16, he wanted two things: video games, and a trip to Ferguson, Missouri.
"We were watching the news . . . and I was like, 'I want to do that,'" Jay explained. "My dad was like, 'Uh, ok.' And I said, 'Well, let's go in the daytime.'"
Jay, whose family lives in Athens, said that part of him wanted to see what he had seen on television, like the gas station that burned down in the riots that have been ongoing in the town since a black teenager was shot by police two weeks ago. Another part of him, Jay said, wanted to go for a more personal reason.
"I'm afraid that if I go outside of Athens, people will see me as this scary African American kid and they don't even know me," Mattson said. "[I was protesting] more for African American kids in the future, as in them not having to be afraid of [judgement]."
Mattson's parents, Kevin and Vicky Mattson, are white.
"When Trayvon Martin was killed a couple of years ago, we were very strongly affected," Vicky said. "I mean, actually, as white adoptive parents, to know how to each him to be black in this society, every time something like this happens, we don't really know how to deal with this."
His parents were more hesitant than Jay was to go to Ferguson. They had safety concerns, and discussed whether or not it was ethical for them to protest in a community that was not their own. But Jay persisted, so on their way back to Athens, they detoured to the turbulent town.
The family said that when they arrived, the town was peaceful, "just a town that's going through a really hard time," Jay explained. A group of protestors welcomed them to join their group.
"The best part that I liked the most was holding up a sign and standing up on the road and having almost every car go by honking and being like, 'Yes, I have powers of awesome,'" Jay said.
The family left before night, after they saw military trucks and police cars arrive at a mall parking lot. Jay said that as they drove away, he thought about the impact he might have made on the protests.
"People saw that I was just an African American kid who was just a few years younger than him. And they [may have thought], 'Well, this kid is protesting and he's not trying to blow something up,' which is I guess how people see African American people," Jay explained. "I felt like I might've changed a couple of people's views on African American teens and this issue of Michael Brown being shot."