Note: The ideas and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the authors' and should not be ascribed to the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes or its members. On August 5, 2021, we archived old blog posts. You can find the archive by clicking here.
Remembering George Floyd – May 25
I vividly remember where I was the morning following the murder of George Floyd. I was working from home, physically and emotionally unable to focus on anything but the video (over and over again), the outcries of injustice, and the relentless feeling of pain, disbelief, and frustration that followed me for days. I also remember the first phone call I had with anyone that day. It was a coworker who merely agreed, “ya, how terrible” while hardly skipping a bit in her normal conversation that I was no longer able to listen to. I needed to find “my people” - others with the same emotion and need to take action. For weeks and months following, I continued to turn to those supporters, who are now my confidants, teachers, and treasured friends. These friends and I have been doing the work of telling the untold history of racism that was largely re-ignited May 25, 2020.
I think it is important to not only say his name, but to remember who George Floyd was. He was a man raised in a racially segregated and economically impoverished Houston neighborhood. He was a descendent of a formerly enslaved Black farmer, whose wealth was stripped away by the politics of white backlash. His mother grew up as one of 13 children, searching in vain for an escape from intergenerational poverty. His father was an inspiring musician with a weakness for alcohol and extramarital carousing. George himself struggled with drug addiction, frequent arrests, and a man whose muscular physical interior hid a gentle soul that battled with pain, anxiety, claustrophobia, and depression. Why did society and our criminal justice system fail to see the humanity of Mr. Floyd so badly? What have we been taught? Or maybe worse, what have we not been taught?
I co-lead a program called, The Humanity Project: Telling the Untold Story. We use videos, activities, and courageous conversations to help our participants see racism as a social construct; understand how forms of slavery and attacks on Black Americans have continued since the 13th Amendment, just in new forms and disguises; and have taken a hard look at discriminatory laws and practices that continue to create generations of wealth and education gaps and disproportionately criminalize Black men and women.
Nearly 40 CSA Sisters and Associates have participated in The Humanity Project since its inception in 2015. The 2022-2023 program year is coming to an end. Our final session is being hosted by Motherhouse Sisters in Founders Hall on June 6th. I look forward to this in-person interaction and am grateful to CSA for their steadfast work around racial justice and its intersecting forms of bias, prejudice, and injustice.
I have invited other Sisters and Associates to also share their experiences of George Floyd’s murder and their awareness of racism today. Here are some of their responses:
“George Floyd’s murder got national recognition because a bystander took action and filmed it on her phone. Ordinary people got a national movement started because they noticed and did something. It helped me realize that some of the seemingly insignificant things I notice and do can have repercussions. The few interactions I have had in the past couple of years are anything but spectacular, yet, I hope they have sent a small ripple into the Fond du Lac community.
"One example stands out. I was leaving St. Mary’s Church at noon one day and a Black bicycler caught my eye. I smiled and we greeted each other. As I reached the center of the street he turned around and asked me about the Church building. Then asked me to pray for him. ‘Yes’ I said, ‘but let’s get out of the middle of the street.’ He proceeded to sing a song before we prayed. Really, the song was a part of the prayer.” - Sister Josephine Goebel, CSA
“I live in Minneapolis and the area where George Floyd was murdered was very close to where my brother and his family live. I was going through a period of no immunity and was literally stuck in my home with a foreign exchange student from Kyrgyzstan during this time. My children were delivering groceries to me. The rest of my family however was very active. My son and his wife and young sons went down to the area to clean up the next day. That was what many of the residents were doing along with passing out water, food and other necessities. That area of uptown where George was murdered is now a food desert after this incident. There was a march down my street in protest and the picture of the murder of a friend of my daughter’s when he was sitting in a car with his girlfriend and young child in the back also flashed into my mind. We set up neighborhood watches on my street and exchanged phone numbers. I saw trucks and cars with out of state plates coming into our neighborhoods to create problems. Most of the people of Minneapolis were not violent. The city has calmed down, but there needs to be more education and mental health professionals going out on calls with the police or instead of them in many cases. I still pray that this horror makes a difference!” - CSA Associate, Lynn Barber
“I particularly remembered how racism affects us at Mass on Mother's Day. I recognized many people who were there but when I asked myself who was missing, I remembered the mothers and their families at the border who were trying their best to preserve lives without shelter from the sun, food, water or bathrooms for their children. We continue as a society to kneel on the necks of those who cannot defend themselves. Like George Floyd, their name is Jesus.” - CSA Associate, Mary Gorske
“When I think back on this event, I recall discussions with two black women at my workplace who were not faring great in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder. It's the 21st century, yet there we were, the same horrific record continued to play... They were both challenged by a sense of isolation: in many workplaces, politics and religion are taboo topics. Since no one at work was talking about George Floyd, they felt their white co-workers either were not affected by this murder, or perhaps didn't care. And before I reached out to the only black person on my team, I hesitated momentarily, unsure if I should. Does a black person really want to hear from a pasty, middle-aged white woman right now?
"I recall my anger from the news footage, which morphed into incredulity and sorrow like the inside of a lava lamp. If a police officer really believes their life is in danger, they don't keep their hands in their pockets. A jury agreed." - CSA Associate Kelly Robe
Kelly also shares the instructions on one of the signs at the George Floyd Memorial Square that continue to be a good reminder for her, and should be for us all:
- Decenter yourself and come to listen, learn, mourn, and witness. Remember you are here to support, not to be supported.
- Seek to contribute to the energy of the space, rather than drain it. Bring your own processing to other white folks so that you will not harm BIPOC [black and indigenous people of color.]
- Visitors are encouraged to be ‘mindful’ of whether their “volume, pace, and movements are supporting or undermining” efforts to ‘decenter’ themselves and urges them to not take pictures of people without their consent.
- If you witness white folks doing problematic things, speak up with compassion to take the burden off of Black folks and our siblings of color whenever appropriate. Seek to engage rather than escalate, so that it can be a learning movement rather than a disruption.