In the midst of unrest and uncertainty, there’s also hope and inspiration.
Nathan Contreras got a powerful lesson about racism in third grade. And it wasn’t from a book. One day, when he tried to defend a couple of kids new to his school and new to the country, another kid tried to strangle him.
A grade earlier, Nathan had learned about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He learned about King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech and learned about King’s huge impact on making the country a better place. It had a lasting impact on Nathan as well.
“My mom picked me up from school,” he says. “She asked what I learned and I told her about his history, and when my dad got home from work, I told him too.”
Nathan’s mom, Cindy, says her son had to know more about King and what he did.
“He grabbed my phone and started Googling ‘Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’ and on YouTube he started watching videos. He spent probably a good two hours watching videos,” she says.
That led to more conversation.
“We let him know racism is real and the world is not perfect and we, as humans, can make a difference by being a better person and not being racist, and being loving and kind,” Cindy says.
Ultimately, it was Nathan’s second lesson about racism that changed his plan of doing something for himself into an act of something for others. And trying, like King, to somehow make the world a better place.
“I play video games and wanted to buy a new keyboard,” says the young gamer. “Mom told me to earn it. The most expensive is about $100.”
Nathan worked out a plan with his folks to make and sell candy to make the money and buy himself the new keyboard. In late May, just two days before he sold his first jar of candy, the plan changed.
“My mom got called a ‘beaner,’” he says. “I really didn’t like that.”
Cindy says she didn’t tell her son about it at first. It was the first time she’d ever been called a racial epithet. “It was actually pretty shocking to live it firsthand.”
Shortly after she told him, Nathan watched the news about the protests with his grandparents and decided. “I realized everything that was going on wasn’t acceptable,” he says. “I wanted to put a stop to it.”
The super awesome keyboard would have to wait. He was going to sell candy to raise money for the Black Lives Matter Global Network.
After trying some different recipes on their family, they perfected a line of chili-covered candies. And Cindy stresses, each is custom calibrated for the desired spice level of the customer. “We definitely try to accommodate what people want,” Cindy says.
She posted Nathan’s Dulces Enchilados on Instagram — an eight-ounce Mason jar full of sweet-hot confections for $6 a piece — and business has been brisk.
Since June 1, Nathan has made $475 (as of mid-June), all of which will go to Black Lives Matter. The rest of the month, he’ll donate 10 percent.
“It’s snowballed and he doesn’t want to stop,” Cindy says. “Nathan has always been such a go-getter, but this is the first time we’ve seen the support this deep. It’s been so amazing.”
He has an 11-year-old friend who just beat cancer. Nathan wants to do a toy drive in November for her and other kids at CHOC Children’s. And also suicide prevention for kids. “I can help stop it,” he says. “I wouldn’t want some kid to pass because somebody was rude to them.”
Cindy marvels at her soon-to-be seventh-grader. “He’s thinking about others. I don’t know how I got stuck with a little adult.”
But still a pretty normal kid.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he says. “I still want the keyboard.”
If you’d like to support Nathan’s fundraising charity, message them on Instagram @nathan.dulces.enchilados or email Cindy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Shawn Price