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8-year-old’s questions shift to social justice

These two girls are best friends: Alaya Horne (left) and Stacey Tyler. (Photo courtesy of Chris Horne)
These two girls are best friends: Alaya Horne (left) and Stacey Tyler. (Photo courtesy of Chris Horne)

Credit: Courtesy of Chris Horne

Credit: Courtesy of Chris Horne

Johns Creek girl keeping diary shares thoughts with her best friend, who's been chronicling her own feelings.

The last several weeks, it seems, have been filled with a series of sad and life-changing events.

The deaths of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks at the hands of the police.

Protests and demonstrations calling for an end to injustice.

A violent Fourth of July weekend that took Secoriea Turner.

For adults, it can be difficult to make sense of it all. It’s even harder if you’re a child.

Since April, we’ve been visiting with Alaya Horne, the little girl from Johns Creek who’s been documenting the highs and lows of living through a pandemic on the pages of her diary.

Recently, though, her focus, has shifted to questions about social justice, racism and change.

She’s been sharing those thoughts with her best friend, Stacey Tyler, who has also been chronicling her own feelings and concerns in her two diaries — one has a cat on the cover; the other is shaped like a fox.

These two 8-year-olds, one who is Black, the other who is white, have been saddened by what they’ve seen. Like so many of us, they find it confusing — and hurtful.

“What happened to George Floyd was very … mean, but that’s why people are protesting,” Stacey wrote. “What’s happening is scary, but I know it will be okay.”

Page from Stacey Tyler's diary. The 8-year-old is the best friend of Alaya Horne, 8, whose own diary has gone from chronicling the pandemic to social justice. On this page from Stacey's diary she discusses how what happened to George Floyd was mean and that's why people are protesting.
Page from Stacey Tyler's diary. The 8-year-old is the best friend of Alaya Horne, 8, whose own diary has gone from chronicling the pandemic to social justice. On this page from Stacey's diary she discusses how what happened to George Floyd was mean and that's why people are protesting.

On the pages of her diary, Alaya shared this: “I saw a sign that said, “Black Lives Matter.' It is true.”

Alaya, as you may remember, lives in Johns Creek with her mother and father, Shara and Chris, and her little brother, Killian, who is 23 months old. She enjoys writing, dancing and singing. And she loves her Yoshis — plush stuffed toys that are part dinosaur, part turtle.

Pages from 8-year-old Alaya Horne's diary, which has shifted from thoughts on pandemic to social justice. On this page she notes "It is true that Black Lives Matter."
Pages from 8-year-old Alaya Horne's diary, which has shifted from thoughts on pandemic to social justice. On this page she notes "It is true that Black Lives Matter."

Stacey also lives in Johns Creek with her mom Lezly, and she adores her fish, Pearl, and her kitten, Caramel. Her favorite subject is science. “I really like to learn about the body. I want to be a doctor.” And her grandfather is a retired police officer.

“He was always nice to people,” she said. “It must be scary, but he was a very brave police officer.”

These two girls are best friends, and their diaries capture the roller coaster of emotions each of us has been enduring. They also reflect a sense of hope. And they remind us what it’s like to see the world — no matter how troubling or uncertain — through the eyes of a second-grader.

Page from Stacey Tyler's diary. The 8-year-old is the best friend of Alaya Horne, 8, whose own diary has gone from chronicling the pandemic to social justice. This page from Stacey notes that she wishes could start a kids' protest.
Page from Stacey Tyler's diary. The 8-year-old is the best friend of Alaya Horne, 8, whose own diary has gone from chronicling the pandemic to social justice. This page from Stacey notes that she wishes could start a kids' protest.

“Just because some people are different shades or color doesn’t mean you have to be mean to them,” Stacey writes in one of her entries: “As a kid, I would help by standing up to it, saving people and praying.

“I wish I could start a kids’ protest … I would make a petition and get some kids to sign it … we would go protest and would do it every day until they made things right.”

Alaya writes about how everyone should be treated the same — regardless of their race.

“I have never been around racists, so I don’t feel the anger that everyone else feels. I am growing up in a good place. I think everyone should be treated equally.

“My BFF is Black, and I don’t care. So, bye.”

Alaya likes that Stacey is such a trusted friend, and these two girls share a bond.

“I’m glad I’m friends with Stacey. I want to change the world with her,” Alaya wrote in one of her diary entries. “We could talk on Facetime and decide what we want to say to the world. I want everyone to listen to us.”

Pages from 8-year-old Alaya Horne's diary, which has shifted from thoughts on pandemic to social justice. On this page, Alaya talks about her BFF/soul sister Stacey Tyler. Alaya says Stacey is "very kind, musical, and stylish."
Pages from 8-year-old Alaya Horne's diary, which has shifted from thoughts on pandemic to social justice. On this page, Alaya talks about her BFF/soul sister Stacey Tyler. Alaya says Stacey is "very kind, musical, and stylish."

And Stacey appreciates how Alaya comforts her when she is upset. “Sometimes, I feel like I can cry. Alaya always asks, ‘What’s wrong?’ I tell her, and she gives me a hug. I really like getting hugs when I’m upset.”

In the meantime, both are doing their part to make the world a better place — a world in which everyone, they imagine, is “nice and kind” to one another.

Page from Stacey Tyler's diary. The 8-year-old is the best friend of Alaya Horne, 8, whose own diary has gone from chronicling the pandemic to social justice. On this page Stacey offers up a prayer for what is good in a troubling world. "We're meant to be nice and kind. Amen."
Page from Stacey Tyler's diary. The 8-year-old is the best friend of Alaya Horne, 8, whose own diary has gone from chronicling the pandemic to social justice. On this page Stacey offers up a prayer for what is good in a troubling world. "We're meant to be nice and kind. Amen."

What does that look like?

Stacey remembers the time she and her friends reached out to a lonely classmate. “She looked upset and was sitting by herself because she had no one to play with. So, we said, ‘Do you want to play with us?’ She really enjoyed it, and she said, ‘Thank you for playing with me because I was sad.’”

For Alaya, that means pursuing her plans to bring her Yoshis to a children’s hospital.

“I think they would love it,” she said, “the Yoshis and the children.”

And each year, during the holidays, she brings gifts to her classmates.

“I give each kid in my class a present. I try my best to give everyone something that I know they would like.”

For one little boy, Alaya’s mom explained, that gift had special meaning. “I was lucky enough to be there when she gave out the gifts. When she called his name, it was the first time I’ve seen him smile all year long.”

Pages from 8-year-old Alaya Horne's diary, which has shifted from thoughts on pandemic to social justice.
Pages from 8-year-old Alaya Horne's diary, which has shifted from thoughts on pandemic to social justice.

Of course, both moms have been trying to explain to their daughters all that has been happening — and that hasn’t been easy.

“It’s been bittersweet,” said Stacey’s mom, Lezly Tyler. “I love how engaged she is and how empathetic she is. Seeing all of this through her eyes has been refreshing.

“You want to protect your child’s innocence and joy,” she said. “But I like that I can talk to her about these topics and that she understands.”

Shara Horne has also had similar conversations with Alaya. One of those talks came during the first night of protests in Atlanta.

Shara remembers watching television and seeing Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms address the crowd, telling demonstrators: “Above everything else, I am a mother. … We are better than this! We’re better than this as a city, we are better than this as a country.”

Page from Stacey Tyler's diary. The 8-year-old is the best friend of Alaya Horne, 8, whose own diary has gone from chronicling the pandemic to social justice. Stacey has also tackled those two topics in her own diary.
Page from Stacey Tyler's diary. The 8-year-old is the best friend of Alaya Horne, 8, whose own diary has gone from chronicling the pandemic to social justice. Stacey has also tackled those two topics in her own diary.

Alaya climbed on her lap to watch. “I hugged her, and we watched it together. It’s a moment I’ll never forget. Alaya had a lot of questions. It’s difficult as a parent to have conversations that you know take away from the innocence of your child, but you know that they’re necessary.”

The girls’ diaries also capture the sense of confusion and angst about the coronavirus.

“I miss all my friends, but I’m glad you’re OK,” Stacey wrote in her diary.

Alaya wrote: “I wish the coronavirus went on vacation from attacking people so that we can take a vacation, too.”

When it comes to race, Alaya hopes that by writing more about America’s struggles, then sharing those diary entries with the world, as she says, people will listen.

Pages from 8-year-old Alaya Horne's diary, which has shifted from thoughts on pandemic to social justice. On this page she talks about her best friend, 8-year-old Stacey Tyler. "I am glad to be allowed to be friends with Stacey. I want to change the world with her."
Pages from 8-year-old Alaya Horne's diary, which has shifted from thoughts on pandemic to social justice. On this page she talks about her best friend, 8-year-old Stacey Tyler. "I am glad to be allowed to be friends with Stacey. I want to change the world with her."

Does she think we can end racism?

“If we work hard enough, then yes.”

As for the idea of the “kids’ protest,” Stacey hasn’t yet given up on the idea.

Pages from 8-year-old Alaya Horne's diary, which has shifted from thoughts on pandemic to social justice.
Pages from 8-year-old Alaya Horne's diary, which has shifted from thoughts on pandemic to social justice.

“We would make signs of different colors, and we wouldn’t stop until racism is over.”

And how long would that take?

“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know if it will ever be over.”