I moved to Minnesota for a man. And I left my husband in Detroit (temporarily). This may sound as if I went against my morals and feministic principles—but I did not.
“I moved here because George Floyd, the man, symbolized the movement.”—TONYA ALLEN, PRESIDENT
The movement for Black lives, re-catalyzed by Floyd’s murder and Minneapolis activists, resulted in millions of multiracial, mostly young people protesting in the streets in more than 2,000 towns in 60 countries for months. They were relentless and they were courageous. They made us notice, they made us uncomfortable, and they made us move. They made me—like so many others across the country—wonder, “How can I do more?” and “How can I make sure this time change is durable?” Seeking the answers to these questions moved me—figuratively and literally—from my comfortable, yet meaningful, life in Detroit. The divine interruption placed me here in a new city, a new job, a new home, and a new mission.
The mission of the McKnight Foundation—to advance a more just, creative, and abundant future where people and planet thrive—can only be accomplished if we center racial equity and implement practices, policies, and systems that are reparative. Such policies would have allowed George Floyd’s dreams to be realized rather than suffocated on the hard pavement of 38th St. and Chicago Ave.
Like many of you, I’ve gone to that intersection, now named George Floyd Square, many times. I have paid my respects, been in community, and remembered the bravery of 17-year-old videographer Darnella Frazier. It may surprise some that I know her name yet have never watched her video. I didn’t need to see her footage to know what happened. Unfortunately, I have seen enough images and heard enough stories of Black people killed by feverish police or as the result of ongoing violence or unyielding racism in our communities. I did not need to view the George Floyd video to have it haunt me.
As a Black woman, I found that the knowledge of the brutality of George Floyd’s death—not the visual—was enough to move me all by itself, yet my transition was about so much more. My response was about the numerous names we recite—Breonna, Ahmaud, Duante, Sandra, Philando, and Trayvon—to the call to “say his or her name.” It was about the men in my family and my friends who recount, sometimes decades later, with tears in their eyes, the humiliation and trauma of being stopped and assaulted by overzealous police officers. It is about the innocent children shot in Minneapolis—Ladavionne, Trinity, and Aniya—and it is about the perpetrators who violently act out their pain, resulting from lack of opportunity, stability, and jobs. It is about the disproportionately high numbers of dead Black men and women that prove this country has a hierarchy of human value. That pain trapped in my DNA—passed down through generations of Black families—is raw and heavy because we have never reckoned with the embedded racism that requires some of us to carry the burden of our country’s weighty sins.
Whether you watched the George Floyd video or not, I want it to haunt you too. I want it to continue to move you in some way—if not to a new city or town, then in your own community. Be moved by your convictions. Be relentless in your actions.
“None of us can afford to stay comfortable—not one of us—because our humanity and democracy are at stake.”—TONYA ALLEN, PRESIDENT
Those of us who have power and privilege should do the most. If you have power, rewrite the rules where and when you can. I am reminded of the biblical scripture “to whom much is given, much is required.”
There is a long road to justice before us. It requires us to be relentless, courageous, and inconvenienced, not just on the anniversary of Floyd’s death, but every day.
We have to fortify ourselves against rollbacks from progress that our country has historically endorsed. History shows us that after every seven years or so of progress on race, our country goes backward. We harm the most vulnerable and they experience the greatest setbacks. We cannot do that again. Today and every day we must fight for tomorrow, so that we can keep moving, healing, and fighting our way forward to a just America.
Photograph by Justin W. Milhouse
In my new McKnight office, I have a portrait of Black boys laughing and full of joy. I love this photo because it is a constant reminder that Black boys—like all other people—deserve a childhood too. I want them to experience growing up without being on guard with adults and with police officers in their neighborhoods. I want them to have the freedom to experience life without having to protect themselves from the world. That’s what I wish for all Minnesotans. That’s what George and Philando and Jamal and Daunte deserved. And that is what must motivate us to change the systems that no longer work, and to eradicate those that never did.
With the right supports and systems in place, we can create communities that lift everyone. I moved to Minnesota because I believe this change can happen here first. The McKnight Foundation also believes this. I hope you are moved to make this happen too.
This essay is the first in a series of first-person reflections our colleagues are sharing about George Floyd and the racial justice movement.