George Floyd would have been an ordinary statistic, so common an action that you wouldn't have paid him a second notice. He was the latest Black man in 2020 caught in a police trap with no exit. A misdemeanor allegation. A $20 fake bill. An apprehensive but somewhat cooperative suspect.
It was, after all, Memorial Day, and who should let their guard down on that auspicious holiday? It was Minneapolis, the land of the "Minnesota Nice," where racial confrontations are often not discussed in polite company.
"I Can't Breathe!"
Everyone knows what happened, how it happened, and the impact of what happened around the world. One black man pinned to a city street by the knee of a rogue police officer who listened to no-one. When George Floyd called out to his deceased mother, Officer Derek Chauvin refused to release the suspect. He kept pressing on Floyd's neck for nearly ten minutes. When George Floyd cried out, "I Can't Breathe!!" Chauvin used his white male police privilege and resolutely anchored his hold. Even the three police officers on hand did nothing to ease the tragedy. They were accomplices in a statistical murder that mattered little to them.
But it did matter to Darnella Fraizer. She was 17 years old on that day, with no photographic, videographer, or police training. A mere high school kid with a conscience bigger than Derek Chauvin or the three police goons put together. She simply took out her phone, clicked over to the video option, and pressed play. Her 9-year-old cousin, Judeah Reynolds, faithfully stood by and witnessed a police officer murdering a Black man. Darnella kept filming, Judeah gave moral support, and other witnesses did their part to dissuade the rogue cop from finishing off an unarmed Black man.
Darnella unknowingly was serving a higher purpose. She said, "When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad, I look at my brothers, I look at my cousins, my uncles because they are all Black. It's been nights I've stayed up apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life. It's not what I should have done; it's what he should have done."
Baby cousin Judeah said, "I was sad and kind of mad, and it felt like it was stopping his breathing and it was hurting him. "
A 17 year old and a 9 year old. Offering more grace under fire than wealthy patrons with trunks filled with academic degrees.
These children had GUTS. They were BRAVE. They had COURAGE.
The rogue cops threatened to spray mace in their faces to deter the courage and bravery they demonstrated. Other bystanders, including two other 17-year-olds, Alyssa Funari and Karlynn Gilbert, testified in court and bore their truth of what they saw that day. Yes, there were adults who also testified for the Prosecution, articulating the helplessness they felt as they pleaded for the rogue cop to take his knee off of George Floyd's neck.
Charles McMillian, age 61, was most compassionate, encouraging George Floyd to corporate with the police; yet he also witnessed a hateful and racist cop killing a Black man over a $20 bill. When I watched McMillian break down and cry during his court testimony, tears flowed down my face as I struggled to ask the question, "Why?"
The conviction of Officer Derek Chauvin represented a well-orchestrated trial where the testimonies and video footage of children were principal components of the Prosecution's evidence. The Defense's arguments were pathetically weak, heavily relying on the hypothesis that the preexisting medical-drug history of George Floyd was the cause of death.
And in less than 12 hours, the diverse jury of nine set the record straight.
They believed the CHILDREN.
Yes, the sentencing will take place in the next eight weeks, and Derek Chauvin's legal team will undoubtedly press for an appeal. It won't work. Chauvin will serve some time in jail for his arrogance, hatred, and racism. His police goon squad of three will probably get jail time after their trial is held in August.
The Police Killings Continue
In the midst of nationwide celebrations of the Chauvin's conviction, there is still so much work to do. The US Justice Department is now investigating the operational practices of the Minneapolis Police Department. And as I write this commentary, three more police "shoot to kill" cases have sprung up in Columbus, Ohio, Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and Knoxville, Tennessee.
This is out of control and MUST be stopped. Our nation MUST recalibrate our police departments so that punishment meets the crime regardless of race or ethnicity.
George Floyd would have been proud of the young and old bystanders who defended his dignity. They could not save his life, but they saved his legacy. I pay tribute to Darnella and Judeah in particular because they did not RUN in the face of danger. One took out her cell phone as a proud citizen journalist. And the other backed up her older cousin and cried out as any good 9-year-old advocate would do.
They would make ANY mother proud. I celebrate their wisdom and their action.
Saving George Floyd
Yes, young people SAVED George Floyd. They couldn't save his life, but they saved his humanity and made it impossible for us to look away or turn back to the old way of thinking. For our young people armed with cell phone cameras, hopes, and dreams, we have to recalibrate our police departments across the country and examine the countless other ways to affirm the Black Lives Matter signs with policies and practices that give Black and Brown people the decency they deserve.
Our lives turned upside down by mid-March when an invisible germ knocked on doors across the world, entered, and decided to stay. Strange and unwanted, the coronavirus derailed carefully planned events and upset our lives in a manner that hasn't been seen since the flu pandemic of 1918.
Traveling To India
In February, I led a group of hearty travelers to India for the sixth time, thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We carried masks in our suitcases as a precaution and made sure to tell the customs officers when we arrived in South India that we were coming to Chennai from Boston, not China (seriously). Little did we realize that Wuhan, China would become the epicenter of a worldwide pandemic that has killed nearly one million people.
Black History Breakfast
Deciding to host my March 12th Black History Breakfast was a difficult choice. Conditions gradually deteriorated when I returned from India straight through ramping up for the Breakfast. By March 11th, the cancellations poured in from sponsors and supporters who could not attend because of company policies or just fear of this thing called COVID-19. I worked with the hotel to make sure we had plenty of space between seats and ample hand sanitizer. Our usual practice of hugging and kissing our keynote speaker and award recipients was strictly prohibited. We elbow bumped instead. It ended up being a lovely event and was one of the last events that the hotel held before shutting down for several months.
Attending The Final Face To Face Church Service
I attended my last face to face church service on Sunday, March 15th. Our church, Bethel AME in Boston, has been virtual ever since, with one exception of a parking lot service held last week. The building is closed, and the Zoom/Facebook/YouTube services will continue until probably sometime in 2021. We have adapted, and the church is busier than ever online!
Hunkering Down At Home
Since those two special events on March 12th and March 15th, I have largely stayed at home. Fortunately, I have had a home office for more than 20 years and shifted a portion of my business online five years ago. Transitioning all of my business activities online was not that difficult. I have used the Zoom platform for years, never knowing that I would become a Zoom trainer and would run my entire speaking and training business on Zoom as these weeks have turned into months.
I learned to adapt to this sea change caused by COVID-19. All of the earlier ups and downs of my personal and professional life prepared me for this era. Little did I realize that the hard work preparing for and presenting my TEDx talk on "Facing Fear" last October would actually foreshadow the anguish, sadness, sickness, and death brought on by this nasty virus.
Last month I took my first COVID test (the self-administered nasal version) and tested negative. My younger daughter and son in law, who live with me, have also tested negative. In a few weeks, I'll take the test again to ensure a negative result to an awful intruder.
Missed Visits With My Grandchildren
I miss seeing and hugging my granddaughters and their parents, who I have not seen in person since January. That's the toughest part of fighting this deadly disease.
Adjusting To This New Normal
Spending long stretches indoors find me working longer in my office. I have started some deep dive cleaning projects in my house, long overdue from years on the road. I don't expect to travel until next summer or later in 2021 and don't anticipate traveling internationally until 2022.
Being at home so much has been a blessing to my front and back porches! I have flowers and plants everywhere! I have purchased many of my plants from the farmer about five minutes from my house. Her plants are hearty, and she operates on the honor system. You buy what you want and leave the money in her change box! Her basil plants are flourishing on my front and back porch, and I enjoy the soups, veggie dishes, and salads made with my basil, parsley, and chives. My king coleus plants look like small trees, but I had to make some adjustments on my front porch when the deer decided to eat the giant leaves for dinner!!
Economic Pandemic and Job Layoffs
What a difference six months make!!! On top of job cuts, including my younger daughter, Michelle's layoff as a high school paraprofessional, canceled projects, and business closures yield economic forecasts of uncertainty we could have never predicted five years ago.
America's racial climate turned ugly following the tragic death of George Floyd. His murder triggered a worldwide outbreak of protest rallies. Black Lives Matter signs are rallied from Seattle to Johannesburg, and CEOs wrote apology letters all over the country.
My diversity services hit a fever pitch all summer long. Training sessions, C-Suite forums, and Third Shift workshops…you name it, and I've held it on Zoom. The key will be to sustain the anti-racism workshops and implicit bias training sessions well into 2021 AND beyond so that systemic change can become a permanent part of our institutions and communities throughout the United States.
I'll save my comments, predictions, and actions about the upcoming presidential election for my next post. I have too much to say to cram it all in one essay. This commentary sets the stage for my comments on where we are headed as a country on November 3rd.
In the meantime…
Wash your hands for 20 seconds.
Wear your face mask everywhere.
Keep your distance.
Make sure you complete your US. Census Form by September 30th.
The adventure of our lives has only just begun.
For me, last year’s Juneteenth Celebration at Franklin Park here in Boston was the best. A city park filled with happy black friends, colleagues, and families all enjoying the moment of good weather, good friends, and definitely good barbecue. This annual celebration took place every third Saturday in June from early morning where you staked out your location till the evening when the charcoal embers smolder from the sizzle of the grill.
So Much Fun In Franklin Park
In addition to the families who turned out in the 2019 sunshine, many local, state, and national organizations proudly set up tables, stands, and entire corners of the park to display their emblems, symbols, logos, and signage in full recognition of Juneteenth’s real meaning…freedom for all in a joyous celebration. I am a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, founded 107 years ago on the campus of Howard University. I am from a family of Deltas, including my sister in law, an older daughter, cousin, and my late mother. Last Juneteenth, I hung out with my Delta sisters, who proudly pitched a red and white tent at the Franklin Park celebration. And we were not alone! We were surrounded by the other black sororities and fraternities, including Alpha Kappa Alpha, Zeta Phi Beta, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Alpha Phi Alpha, Phi Beta Sigma, Sigma Gamma Rho, Iota Phi Theta.
Those were just the black Greek-letter organizations present at last year’s Juneteenth Celebration. We were also joined by the NAACP, Urban League, Nation of Islam, various church groups, political campaigns, and healthcare advocacy organizations. I invited two of my clients to attend so that they could see the black community's interconnection in a unified celebration of harmony and happiness. My clients saw how they could proactively build a relationship with multiple groups and constituencies within an arm’s reach of their headquarters.
There were no speeches, no planned programs, no political debate. Just plain ol’ fun, with soul, hip hop, R&B, dance musicand the electric slide blasting everywhere.
It was beautiful. It was Juneteenth 2019.
An Alternative To June 19, 1997
And it was a soothing way for me to block out June 19, 1997 the date I buried my 17-year-old son who had died in a single-occupant car crash that year days after graduating from high school.
Now I think of Juneteenth differently this year, where social distancing and an angry virus have robbed residents and citizens around the country from holding picnics or parades in commemoration of Juneteenth. We know this year there are large gatherings of peaceful protesters marching to restore dignity and safety in the black community following the tragic deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, D. J. Henry, Sandra Bland and far too many more. And we also know that Black Lives Matter is not just a catchy slogan by progressive liberals. It’s become a new “call to action” mounted on signs and placards and held by black, white brown, Asian, Arab, English, French, Kenyan, Brazilian, and Jamaican faces all over the world!
History of Juneteenth
The historic proclamation announced on a balcony by Union Army General Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865 that ALL slaves throughout America were free. The announcement was made in Galveston, Texas, because selfish white Texas plantation owners kept their slaves in bondage long after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863. They even held onto their slaves after the last Civil War shot was fired in April 1865. So you can only imagine how astonished those ex-slaves were in Galveston tasting freedom for the first time, nearly 2.5 years after the fact.
It’s that historical reality that has made Juneteenth such a festive celebration throughout the country. Clearly there are other “black holidays and traditions” that have more recognition than Juneteenth. It’s just this year, with the triple pandemic - (1) COVID-19, (2) the teetering economic, and(3) racial strife, Juneteenth came center stage when a racist president picked June 19th to hold his “Make America Great Again” rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The voices of protest pushed back, causing the autocrat to move his political mob scene to the next day, June 20th.
Only the Appetizer
The bottom line is go on and celebrate Juneteenth. Make it a national holiday, take the day off from work, and hold countless socially distanced picnics and discussion in its honor. But don’t make it an end-all. It’s the appetizer in a full course meal that hasn’t even been cooked yet. That seven-course meal must include many more intentional initiatives, policy actions, police lobotomies, and economic course correctors if this country is going to really set sail in a new direction.
So enjoy Juneteenth. But make sure you save room for the remaining six courses that will really take us somewhere into a future guaranteeing justice, economic access, and freedom for all.
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Carole Copeland Thomas is a 27 year speaker, trainer and consultant specializing in global diversity, empowerment, multiculturalism and leadership issues.