Amid the heat of a June afternoon, church came to the street where George Floyd died.
His memorial service, broadcast live from the sanctuary at North Central University in downtown Minneapolis, was private. But 3 miles away, at the site on Chicago Avenue where Floyd slipped from consciousness, hundreds listened, prayed and sang along. They bowed their heads, clapped along to a gospel song, shouted, “Amen!” and raised their fists as they called out Floyd’s name.
As smoke from a barbecue wafted, they paid their respects to a man most didn’t know but who has become a symbol of repression and the crying need for change. Just as important, they came to be part of a movement.
“The opportunities we have were born from activism like this,” said Desmond Brown, who traveled from Rochester with his wife, four children and mother-in-law. It’s a moment his children needed to witness, he said.
“They will have a personal responsibility to be part of the struggle to further the goals of justice,” he said as he held his 14-month-old son.
As a black man, he said he has benefited from the sacrifices of those who came before him. Now, he said, a new generation will continue to push for change that will bring justice and equality, Brown said.
“I teach my children to strive for an education, but it may not matter, because their lives simply don’t have the same value,” he said. “So, yeah, I’m hoping for change.”
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the Brown family, with face masks on, stood amid a crowd that wrapped around the corner where memorials to George Floyd continue to grow.
Nearby, Glen Ross was paying his second visit to the memorial.
“I wanted to show my respect to the family,” he said. “I want to show my support for change.”
It’s unfortunate that yet another black man has died at the hand of police, Ross said. But he said Floyd’s death may well be the catalyst for justice and reform.
“Look around,” he said. “There are more people involved — more white people. This may be the moment.”
Standing in the crowd during the service was Tyler Wagner, a white guy from Lakeville who used a black marker to write “Black Lives Matter” on his white T-shirt. Like millions of people who have protested across the country and around the globe, he said he was compelled to take a stand “for what’s going wrong in the criminal justice system.”
A voice boomed over the speakers: “Say his name!”
“George Floyd!” the crowd responded.
Many listened intently, respectfully, to the memorial service being broadcast. A mother wrapped her arms around her daughter.
A couple stood hand in hand. Others wandered around the memorials, adding more bouquets, more poster-sized messages.
And then for eight minutes and 46 seconds — the amount of time a Minneapolis officer ignored Floyd’s pleas that he couldn’t breathe — the crowd stood still, mostly silent, some raising their hands in the air.
The time ticked down, and down the street, Shanniel Ashford of Minneapolis looked around the crowd.
“This is humanity,” she said. “It’s an uplifting experience because it’s encouraging to see some kind of hope and that unity is possible.”
Yes, she said, she wants the four officers responsible for Floyd’s death held accountable. “But this just isn’t a Minneapolis problem,” she said. This is about seeking accountability and justice across the country, she added.
As the memorial service broadcast ended, a street celebration began. As performers took to the stage, the crowd was reminded to be respectful.
The Rev. John C.L. Howard arrived in a three-piece suit to join the throng. “I just came from the services,” he said. “It was so moving, inspiring and healing. I’ve come here to continue to heal.”
But even more so, he said, he wanted to help mark the beginning of a new movement.
“All people are coming together,” he said. “This is about humanity.”
It was a moment many cherished being part of, especially after the violence of last week, when protests spun off into fires and looting that ravaged the city before the National Guard was sent out to quiet the streets and allow peaceful protesters to dominate.
Darnay Benner of Minneapolis, his wife and three children said they needed the solace of Thursday’s street celebration.
“It was important for us to bring our kids here to combat the images of people being destructive,” he said.
Looking down the street, he saw something totally different.
“This,” he said, “is the power of love.”