This afternoon in Houston, Texas, mourners celebrated George Floyd’s life, as a defining moment in the Civil Rights movement and as a father, uncle, brother, son, athlete, activist, and member of Houston’s Third Ward community. Ava DeSantis writes on George Floyd’s memorial service.
In the Fountain of Praise church, the service began with a song calling to the mourners to recognize God as their Lord and refuge. As the song ended, the Reverend reminded the mourners to wear masks inside the church, saying “our people are not expendable.” This line would be repeated throughout the service.
The church was packed with mourners, some of whom waited outside because the capacity of the church had long been surpassed. The Reverend thanked the community for showing up to support the Floyd family in their mourning.
“Let me just thank all of those people that helped to make this come to pass. I want to begin with Esquire Benjamin Crump. Thank you for watching out over this family in times of devastation. Someone has to stand up and take the lead. And thank God that you’ve done that, just that brother. And then also the Reverend Al Sharpton. Thank you for, through North Carolina and Minneapolis, continuing to sound the trumpet and let people know that this is about injustice, and we want to see justice served,” the Fountain of Praise Reverend said.
He then thanked Houston’s civil servants for their support. He thanked the Mayor for making the resources of the city available, the Fire Department, the EMT specialists, and the Chief Operating Officer of the Fountain of Praise church. These thanks were “on behalf of this family.” Following this, the Reverend led the mourners in prayer, thanking God for the “life of George Floyd.”
From Jack Yates High
Members of the Third Ward community recognized George Floyd as a class of 1993 graduate from Jack Yates High School.
“George Floyd was a member of the legendary Jack Yates class of 1993. He was a respected leader…he served with character and distinction as an athletic gifted member of the mighty Lions, 1992 runner-up state championship football team as the starting tight-end, and was a member of the high-performing mighty Lions basketball team. He stood as a six-foot tall, six inch power forward, able to dunk with both hands,” said Sherita McGee Tate, a former classmate.
Floyd left “a legacy of love, loyalty, and service to Jack Yates High School that will live forever in our hearts,” Tate concluded.
Biden, Congressional Black Caucus Members, and Houston Mayor mourn
Vice President Joe Biden was projected on twin screens near the stage as he offered his condolences to the family of George Floyd. Biden began “Hello everyone on this day of prayer, where we try to understand God’s plan in our pain. To George’s family and friends, Jill and I know that deep hole in your hearts when you bury a piece of your soul deep in this earth.”
Biden emphasized the systemic racism which led to Floyd’s murder. “From systemic abuse that still plagues american life…Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve got to deal with the denial, the promise of this nation to so many people for so long. It’s about who we are, what we believe, and maybe most importantly, who we want to be to ensure that all men and women are not only created equal, but are treated equally.” Justice for George Floyd, Biden concluded, would be the beginning of justice for Black America.
Representative Al Green from Texas’ 9th District repeated the Reverend’s opening remarks, saying “our people are not expendable,” this time explicitly in reference to the murder of George Floyd. Rep. Green offered the Congressional Black Caucus’ recent work as evidence of a possible change in how Black Americans experience policing.
“The Congressional Black Caucus has done something historic…We have now a law that makes it against the law to put your foot on the neck of a person. It’s against the law. You can’t have a no-knock arrest, it’s against the law. You’re gonna have to wear your body cameras, that’s against the law,” Green celebrated.
There is larger progress to be made, however. “But I believe, there’s one more thing that we ought to do to make a difference. We have got to have reconciliation. This country has not reconciled its differences with us. We survived slavery, but we didn’t reconcile with segregation, but we didn’t reconcile with segregation, but we didn’t reconcile with suffering and discrimination because we can’t reconcile. It’s time for a Department of Reconciliation, in the highest land, the highest office. It’s time to have someone who’s going to make it his or her business to seek reconciliation for black people in the United States of America,” Green said.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee compared Floyd to Jesus Christ, painting him as a martyr for the Civil Rights movement. “Somebody might have said what good comes out of Nazareth. Somebody else might have said what good comes out of the Third Ward,” Jackson Lee said. Floyd, continued Jackson Lee, was “here on an assignment.”
“The assignment of George Floyd and the purpose will mean there will be no more eight minutes and 46 seconds of police brutality. There will be no more eight minutes and 46 seconds of injustice and the mistreatment of African American men and the hands of the laws of this nation…There will be no more eight minutes and 46 seconds that you will be in pain without getting justice. His assignment turned into a purpose, and that purpose was around the world,” called Jackson Lee.
The Mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner, promised a task force on policing reform within a 90 day period, and his signature today on a piece of legislation to ban chokeholds, require de-escalation, require a warning before shots are fired, introduce a duty to intervene, require comprehensive reporting, and require the exhaustion of all other options before shooting. He also promised to insist on investment in underserved communities, which he believes will decrease the need for policing.
Floyd’s family: ‘I can breathe’
When it came time for Floyd’s family to speak, his brother began with an emotional speech calling Floyd his “own personal Superman” before stepping back. Floyd’s niece then took the stage, beginning powerfully “I want to say hello. My name is Brooke Williams, George Floyd’s niece and I can breathe.”
“As long as I’m breathing, justice will be served,” Williams continued. “My uncle was a father, brother, uncle and a cousin. Spiritually ground and an activist, he always moved people with his words. There was no remorse, watching my uncle’s soul leave his body. He begged and pleaded many times, just for you to give up. But you just push harder. Why must the system be corrupt and broken laws are in place for the African American system to fail?”
Williams called for “these laws [to be] changed.” She shared happy memories with her uncle, telling her “baby girl, you’re going to go so far with that beautiful smile and brains of yours.”
His brother spoke again before the family stepped offstage, saying “I don’t wear ties anymore because I want to be able to breathe.”
Cyril White, the Founder and Director of To God be the Glory Sports, described Floyd’s career as a basketball player and dedicated team member. Floyd gave back to the team by “[recruiting] a lot of other guys from the Third Ward and CUNY homes to come and join me, and those guys got scholarships, and some of these guys can play professionally overseas.” White made his own commitment to build a “George Floyd Memorial Sports Center,” in Houston, Texas.
Dr. Ralph Douglas, Rev. Bill Lawson, and Dr. Brown
Dr. Ralph Douglas offered advice to make the reaction to Floyd’s death have a material impact on the Black community. He asked, “Is this going to be just like so many other movements? A moment of anger and rage, and then back to business as usual?” Douglas said we must “stay with [the fight],” “clean out the White House,” and “go out and vote.” If we do this, Douglas predicts “this boy is going to bring forth a demand for better government.”
Rev. Bill Lawson was the only white speaker. He addressed issues of racism within his white, Christian community: “at my church, it’s easy to not talk about racism…We are better than we used to be but we are not as good as we ought to be, and that is not good enough.”
Dr. Brown closed the series of religious speakers by saying “God will guide us to [the promised land].”
From freedom fighters to George Floyd
The freedom fighter and Civil Rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton was the last speaker at Floyd’s Houston memorial, indicating the inextricable nature of the historic fight for racial justice and the modern reaction to the murder of George Floyd. Sharpton drew this connection explicitly, saying “The same God that brought us home from chattel slavery is still on the throne. The same God that brought us from the back of the bus is still on the throne. The same God that brought us from Jim Crow is still on the throne. And if we are right, he’ll fight our battle.”
Floyd’s memorial was a celebration of the life of an athlete and family member, and a call to celebrate the life of an activist through continued action in the fight for racial justice.