In an emotional and historically significant memorial service in Minneapolis on Thursday, George Floyd was remembered as a loving person who took care of others and generously dispensed caring hugs.
Civil rights icons, elected officials, pro athletes and other celebrities were among those who joined family members to celebrate Floyd’s life and grieve for him. The private memorial was held on the campus of North Central University, located about 3 miles from the intersection where the unarmed, handcuffed Floyd died in police custody on Memorial Day.
The soft background music belied the intensity of the feelings expressed. Mourners closed the service by standing in silence and prayer for eight minutes and 46 seconds — the same amount of time that Floyd, 46, was pinned to the ground by police. The death of the African-American man ignited demonstrations around the nation and the world.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, longtime civil rights activist and MSNBC host, delivered a powerful eulogy that used what happened to Floyd as a metaphor for conditions faced by African-Americans: “What happened to Floyd happened every day. … We were like George, we couldn’t breathe.’’ Sharpton said that neither he nor the Floyd family condone looting or violence. But he added that there is a difference between those “calling for peace and those calling for quiet. You just want us to shut up and suffer in silence.’’
“We have to stand up in George’s name and say, ‘Get your knee off our necks,’ ” Sharpton said. “This is the time for dealing with accountability in the criminal justice system.”
Floyd family attorney Benjamin Crump said the “pandemic of racism and discrimination killed George Floyd” and that his death is the moment that gives the “best opportunity in a long time” to reach the ideals on which America was founded.
In that spirit, early in the service North Central President Scott Hagan announced that the Christian school would start a scholarship in Floyd’s name dedicated to inspiring young black leaders. He challenged other colleges to do the same.
Thursday’s memorial can serve as a healing moment for Minnesota and the rest of a shocked and angry nation, but only if justice and systemic change come next. There’s no more time to waste.