On what would have been George Floyd’s 48th birthday, the George Floyd Global Memorial (GFGM), with community members and supporters, hosted “And Still We Rise,” a celebration of Floyd’s life with music, free food and fellowship in George Floyd Square.
Pan Dimensions delivered sounds of the Caribbean on steel drums as people arrived in the early evening. Under the People’s Way visitors lined up at multiple stations for free meals of curried goat, jerk chicken, beans and rice, pasta, veggies and more provided by The Igloo Café, House of Gristle and Sisters Camelot.
On Chicago Ave., a long line of tables draped in black cloths and adorned with small lanterns hosted a range of community groups including: 612 M*A*SH (Minneapolis All Shall Heal), which is opening its free health clinic in the Square soon; Midwest Art Conservation Center, who has supported GFGM conservation efforts over the past year and a half; and Minnesota Teen Activists, who have organized many marches and rallies – including a state-wide student walkout – to advocate for students facing racial disparities.
Elmond Dominick Saul, a “proud Creole” from New Orleans who lives in South Minneapolis, knew George Floyd and wanted to visit that day.
“He was a gentle giant,” he said.
The Lions of Judah Drum Drillteam marched north on Chicago Ave., drawing people toward the event stage where family members and friends shared words of encouragement and expressed gratitude. Paris Stevens, George “Perry” Floyd’s cousin and co-chair of GFGM, introduced her – and Perry’s – aunt, Mahalia Jones, who was visiting from North Carolina.
“Every time I come here it’s always amazing, because the people here are so good. Loving. I feel the love… the community, they welcome me,” said Jones. “Every time I come it’s a joy. And to step out here and see what everyone has done to protect this place and make it sacred and keepin’ it real and steadfast and keeping the movement going… I’m tellin’ you. I’m just glad to be here for this celebration of love.”
The crowd shouted “Happy Birthday” as balloons were released skyward. Brass Solidarity, an ensemble of horns who play Monday afternoons at the Peoples’ Way, then blasted out a “Happy Birthday” tune followed by “This Little Light of Mine.” Twin Cities Rapper Metasota and Youth Choral Ensemble KNOWN Mpls rounded out the music for the evening.
“Rest in peace, George Floyd,” Metasota told the crowd, “I don’t care what you believe personally. I don’t care how you grew up. No one deserves to die like that.”
After the concert, metal luminaries made at free workshops at Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center were suspended in front of the portrait of George Floyd, where people placed candles at the end of the evening.
The day before the event, GFGM Executive Director and Lead Caretaker Jeanelle Austin reflected on how far GFGM has come since the organization was formed one year ago on this day.
“Oh my gosh, we made it to one year,” she said, recalling this time last October when Angela Harrelson, George Floyd’s aunt and co-chair of GFGM, said they we’re going to launch the memorial on Perry’s birthday. With some trepidation, they pulled together a press conference while, unbeknownst to Austin, the community was planning an event to honor Mr. Floyd. It turned into a big event and they made the announcement.
At that time, Derek Chauvin’s trial was still forthcoming, they were still figuring out where to hold the offerings, and whether to do an exhibit. Since then, Pillsbury House Theatre has provided space for conservation and storage of the offerings to the memorial and now, through a new partnership, will be providing office space to GFGM.
From March through August, the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center hosted the pop-up GFGM exhibition “Still Here... Unstolen. Unbroken” in its storefront gallery. And GFGM hosted the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death – significant, Austin explained, in the way it brought together his family, community members and families from all over the Twin Cities whose family members are victims of police violence.
“What makes George Floyd Square George Floyd Square is that we acknowledge the deaths of so many people, here in Minnesota and across the country. Because George Floyd is one of many… who have been lynched by law enforcement, it’s important to us to always say their names and not just say the name of George Floyd,” said Austin. “I think the way the family has moved and approached the building of the George Floyd Global Memorial to really be able to hold so many narratives and so many stories… it sets the framework and it sets the platform for being a kind of institution that will tell the stories of so many people for generations to come.”
One constant for the memorial is it has always had a solid minimum 30-person volunteer base, which continues today.
“I don’t think the George Floyd Global Memorial could have survived this past year without the people of this place. Of our neighborhood,” said Austin. She would like to engage more BIPOC, especially Black, volunteers to be able to tell “our own story in this movement for Black liberation.”
Looking ahead, the Global Memorial wants to acquire land and build a permanent institution from scratch, one that is big enough to hold the story.
To do this, they need to raise funds to hire an executive team to support the vision. In the short term, GFGM is hiring an executive administration assistant, as well as a youth technology intern.
GFGM is continuing its one million donor campaign, wherein people of all ages and economic means can give a minimum of a dollar and be a founding contributor of the memorial.
“We really want the institution to be built of and for and by the people, the same way the memorial has been built of, for and by the people,” said Austin.
And their conservation work at Pillsbury House and in the Square will continue, as well.
“That work doesn’t stop, ‘cause the stories keep coming, the expressions of pain and hope keep coming,” said Austin. “We continue to be committed to preserving and conserving these stories of racial injustice and fighting for racial justice.”
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