Editor’s Note: Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, has been a producer, reporter and editor at the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Jones is co-author of “Say it Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete.” She talks politics, sports and culture weekly on Philadelphia’s 900AM WURD. The views expressed here are solely hers. Read more opinion on CNN.
He was a big hugger, Shareeduh Tate told the world of her cousin on Thursday.
When George Floyd wrapped his arms around you, she said during a nationally-televised memorial service to celebrate his life and to call for justice, “any problems you had, any concerns you had would all go away.”
Since Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, protests have been ongoing across the nation and the world over racism and police brutality.
Four officers have been charged, including Derek Chauvin, the officer who pinned Floyd to the ground by his neck for nearly 9 minutes. He has been charged with second-degree murder and killing Floyd “without intent” in the course of committing assault in the third degree. He initially faced only lesser charges but the complaint was amended after public outcry.
Officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao have been arrested and charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
But on Thursday, it was the Floyd family showing us amazing grace through their sorrow, wrapping their loving arms around us, making us forget our problems and our pain. They allowed us to breathe for a moment and get to know George Floyd, the man, as he was in life – instead of knowing him only by the horrifying circumstances of his death, another unarmed black person dead after an encounter with police.
Honestly, there have been days over the past weeks when I’ve felt hopeless, when even I – a person most would call successful – have identified more with the protesters throwing rocks than with some of the more peaceful voices. Times that I’ve been so crippled by fear for my son’s life, I couldn’t function, or even sleep.
Like so many other black people I’ve spoken to lately, I’m fighting to keep my faith.
And that’s why George Floyd’s memorial service, surprisingly, was the healing moment I needed.
I imagine “Big George” – as he was affectionately known – must be proud of his family. They showed love, while commanding dignity and respect. They tried to help Americans like me, who are struggling to find peace and courage, to still believe that we will one day know justice in this nation.
Floyd’s killing, coupled with that of Breonna Taylor and a growing, seemingly endless list of black men, women and children killed by police has ripped wide open unhealed, generational wounds in America.
Black and brown Americans are heartbroken, outraged, disillusioned and determined — a dangerous mix of emotions for this democracy if ignored.
Today, as we witness or participate in protests across the country, at times disrupted by violence and looting, it is clear that many of us — black, brown, white, young and old — are finally fed up with a society that seems bent on clinging to a systemic white supremacy culture, at all costs.
The Floyds were accompanied by the Reverend Al Sharpton, MSNBC commentator and longtime civil rights activist, who was a fitting voice to give the eulogy. It’s a sadly familiar task that he’s been called to do for too many other black Americans who have been unjustly killed by police.
But Sharpton brought just the right mix of justice fighter and Baptist preacher to soothe the souls of so many black folks.
No matter what our religion or race, Sharpton showed us why the black church has always been a place of solace and inspiration. He reminded us what it feels like to love your neighbor. Standing on that stage with a coalition that included the Floyds and their family attorney Benjamin Crump, Gwen Carr – mother of Eric Garner, who was killed by New York police in a similar manner in 2014 – and comedienne Tiffany Haddish, the reverend showed us that we are not alone in this fight for justice.
This fight feels different.
It looks different from any protest I’ve seen in my lifetime, and certainly from the images we’ve seen from the 1960s civil rights movement. And that gives me more hope than I’ve had in ages.
This time, the America locked in protest is not so starkly divided among race and class as it has been in the past. This time, the faces in the crowds across the nation chanting “black lives matter” reflect nearly every race, class, age and gender.
These protests look like the real America.
“George Floyd’s story has been the story of black folks.” Sharpton said. “Because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed of being is because you kept your knee on our neck.”
Can the country say, amen?
And that is why Floyd’s death hurts so deeply. We understand that he literally could not breathe in this nation. The four police officers who killed him must be held accountable, which to me means lengthy prison sentences. But we are all suffocating under the systemic racism that chokes this country from ever reaching its full potential.
Unequal, underfunded schools, inadequate healthcare, workplace discrimination and unequal pay – the list goes on. And it’s exhausting.
Is the country ready to answer Sharpton’s rally call? I know I am.
“It’s time to stand up in George’s name and say, ‘America, get your knee off our necks,’” he urged us. I know it won’t be easy.
There’s just no way to watch the Floyd family standing united with such grace and love in the face of such extreme hate and not be humbled. There’s no way to give in to hopelessness when you hear Floyd’s brother, Philonise, describe how much the protests and support from around the world have meant to the family.
George Floyd, is “going up yonder,” as the old black gospel song goes. And, I pray that his mama – who he cried out for with his last breaths – is waiting to wrap him up in her loving arms when he gets there.
Rest easy, Big George. We will fight for you now.