Nine-Year-Old Stands Up To Westboro Baptist Church
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Every now and again, we like to tell you more about an image or video that's captured public attention. Today, we want to talk about a photo. It's an image of a protest and a counter-protest.
For years, members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas have shown up at public events, including military funerals, to spread their message that God is punishing America for the sin of homosexuality. They carry signs with slogans, such as God Hates America and God Hates Homosexuals - although, on that sign, they very often use a derogatory term that we are not going to repeat.
Well, after seeing these signs and these protests, Josef Miles, a Topeka nine-year-old, decided to make his own sign with the message God Hates No One. He stood next to Westboro demonstrator, and his mom posted a photo on Facebook. Well, to date, NPR's blog post about this has been shared on Facebook more than 100,000 times, and that doesn't even count all the other ways social media users are passing it around.
So we wanted to talk more about this, so we've called Josef Miles and his mom, Patty Akrouche. Welcome to you both. Thank you for joining us.
JOSEF MILES: All right.
PATTY AKROUCHE: Thank you for having us.
MARTIN: Well, Patty, let me start with you. You've been seeing these demonstrators for some time now. Do I have that right?
MARTIN: How long have you been seeing them?
AKROUCHE: Well, I have lived in Topeka since late 2005, so just about seven years.
MARTIN: So almost as long as Josef's been around?
MARTIN: Yeah. You've been seeing them. And do you see them a lot? Are they there all the time?
AKROUCHE: They are. They picket many places that you really wouldn't expect. I don't know what the rhyme or reason is for them to picket where they do, but they're everywhere.
MARTIN: And has Josef been asking questions about them? What were some of his questions?
AKROUCHE: Well, the one that was very hard for me, as a parent was, mom, what is a...
MARTIN: It's not a nice word. It's like the N word.
AKROUCHE: It's a hate word.
AKROUCHE: It's meant to hurt people.
MARTIN: And you explained it, kind of?
AKROUCHE: Yes. I did explain it. I told him it's when a man loves a man or a woman loves a woman and Josef said, you don't mean like when a brother loves his brother, do you? And I said, no. I don't mean it like that. I think Joe kind of had an idea of what I was trying to say, if that makes sense at all.
MARTIN: Sure. So Joe, can I ask you, what made you want to make your own sign?
MILES: Well, the reason is because I just don't like seeing those signs, and I kind of wanted to put a stop to that. I didn't want everybody to think that Topeka has a bad image. So that's what made me do it.
MARTIN: How did you come up with what to put on your sign?
MILES: I thought about it for a minute, and then I came up with God Hates No One, because that is true.
MARTIN: What was it like standing out there?
MILES: I felt really brave and confident.
MARTIN: Well, that's good. Well, Patty, mom, what about you? I mean, he - I'm assuming Joe...
AKROUCHE: I was scared. I was worried.
MARTIN: Yeah. That was going to be my question.
AKROUCHE: I was like, did I really just tell him we could do this? You know, I'd like to clear something up.
AKROUCHE: It's been touted that it was a counter-protest, and that's not accurate. Josef was making a statement. He wasn't protesting the Westboro Baptist Church. Does that make sense?
MARTIN: Well, when you went out there, how did it go? Were they nice? Were they not nice?
AKROUCHE: They were respectful, and I have to say that they did not bother us.
MARTIN: Well, Patty, what do you make of the fact that so many people have responded to the photo?
AKROUCHE: It's odd to me, because I guess it doesn't seem like we did anything, really. Joe wanted to make a statement, and that's what he did. And we all can make a statement and make a difference like that.
MARTIN: Joe, I don't know if your mom's told you - I'm sure she has - that a lot of people really like what you did and they are, you know, talking about it, and a lot of people are sending it around. And we were saying, just on our site, more than 100,000 people have viewed it. And I just wondered, what do you think about that?
MILES: I didn't think that it would be all this popular. I thought it would just be, like, wow, that's really great. Good for you. And I didn't think it would be, like, really popular. I thought it would be kind of popular, but not too popular. OK. Now I'm confusing myself.
MARTIN: OK. Well, mom, before we let you go, you said on your Facebook posting that you got your early Mother's Day present, and you feel proud.
AKROUCHE: Oh, he makes me proud every day. He's a kind boy, and it's a privilege and honor to be his mom. I have better conversations with this boy than I do most adults. I learn something new from him every day, and I'm just really glad that he's my son.
MARTIN: Well, thank you for joining us.
AKROUCHE: And we'd just like to say thanks for all the support, for everybody that has sent me messages and have praised Joe and have told me that I'm, you know, doing it right. We really appreciate that.
MARTIN: Josef Miles recently got a lot of attention online when a photo of him holding the sign God Hates No One went viral. He and his mom, Patty Akrouche, both joined us from Topeka, Kansas.
Josef, Patty, thank you both so much for speaking with us.
MILES: It was a pleasure.
AKROUCHE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.