Medcalf: At George Floyd Square and beyond, the vow to never forget continues
On Friday, Angela Harrelson peered through her car's windshield and grinned at the scene around George Floyd Square in Minneapolis nearly three years after the police murder of her nephew George Floyd.
"This woman has brought some beautiful flowers," said Harrelson, Floyd's closest family member in the Twin Cities. "Look at those beautiful flowers she is bringing out there. Oh, my goodness. It's so gorgeous."
Earlier in the day, she'd met a group of visitors who'd come to Minneapolis from Europe. They told her they'd vowed to visit the memorial the moment they arrived. At the square, at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue S., there is artwork, compassion and a family vibe in the community that reminds Harrelson of a time when you could walk across the street to get eggs or milk or an embrace from a neighbor.
And she squealed when I mentioned this weekend's tribute to her nephew. On Thursday, the third annual "Rise and Remember" event — sponsored by the George Floyd Global Memorial and featuring a gala, vigil, festival and conference that will include notable speakers, such as Nbada Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela — will begin. It's all a testament to a community's strength and its promise to continue the work, which included coming together to collectively create the name of the event.
"We started 'Rise and Remember' pretty much in the basement," Harrelson said about the event's origins. "It's just incredible. We were trying to come up with a name for it, and I said, 'Rise and Remember' is the name that I want. They were like, 'Yes!' Just to see how it has grown and how the community is involved in it and the things that are happening. … Everybody wants to be a part of 'Rise and Remember,' and it's just overwhelming. It's a peaceful joy to know this is happening and going on."
It's important to commend the beautiful people who will not rest because of a promise they made three years ago to ensure it will never happen again. There are organizers and community members. There are unnamed folks who've quietly worked in the background. There are allies and supporters. There are visitors from around the world who will see the Guthrie Theater and Mall of America but only after they witness this city's wound.
They are the reasons, three years later, we will never forget Floyd as the interrogation of injustice and its benefactors continues. The forces that might attempt to erase the George Floyd Square or minimize Floyd's memory or urge everyone to just move on will not win because of their determination.
Jeanelle Austin is a social justice advocate, organizer, educator, poet, speaker and groundbreaker. Over the past three years, Austin — who lives in the community where Floyd was murdered — has fought to maintain the square, both the physical space and its symbolism, along with other community members.
Two weeks ago, she spoke about her work at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and she is also the catalyst for the coming "Rise and Remember" event. The tribute began as a vigil and concert, but in its third year, Best Buy is a corporate sponsor for a three-day event that aims to maintain the momentum toward a push for real justice.
"Year 3 is typically the time where you've got politicians and corporations who want people to forget so that we can go back to business as usual, and we're essentially taking a stance and saying we're not going to allow that to happen," Austin said.
"It is literally in our mission and vision and purpose as an organization to ensure that people do not forget. And so we're coming in strong."
Austin said educating the next generation about Floyd is a portion of her motivation. She has spoken to kids in local schools and noticed their hunger for an understanding of May 25, 2020. But she also acknowledged the complexities of her mission. For some members of her community, the memory of Floyd's murder, the aftermath and George Floyd Square create a traumatizing trifecta.
"There are a lot of Black folks who don't like it," Austin said. "They don't like how the space is held. They don't like how the space is remembered. They want it cleansed because it's too messy for how they want the story to be held. And I completely hear that.
"But there is something to be said about sitting in the messiness of grief and of trauma in a fight for liberation. When I get Black folks from out of town, they say the exact opposite. Black folks from out of town come and they look at it and they say, 'There is so much love here.' "
Harrelson understands those layers, probably more than anyone else. Before Floyd became an icon in the fight against injustice, he was Perry, her nephew. He's still family to her and the relatives scattered throughout Texas and other places.
And there is still pain, three years later. It will never fully subside. But for Harrelson, there is also hope and an appreciation.
"Even though the first year was extremely painful, after three years, it just makes me realize how strong the community is and it continues to fight," she said. "It made me see the strength in myself.
"After three years, we're still here. We're still standing and we're unstolen and we're unbroken."
Myron Medcalf is a local columnist for the Star Tribune and a national writer and radio host for ESPN. His column appears in print on Sundays twice a month and online.