May 2020. I was at home in Harlem when it all went down. The COVID-19 pandemic had hit New York City harder than most other cities, and I was reeling from the severe isolation and grief of watching my friends and colleagues lose their jobs in droves. I was thrust into leaving a tiny Uptown apartment for a more spacious place in Brooklyn when I got an alarming text from a friend.
"Hey, be careful if you're online today. There's a new video going around." Although I wasn't sure what exactly I was being protected from, I knew that it must have something to do with a Black person's death.
In a horrifying sequence captured over 9 minutes and 29 seconds, George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020. The video went viral and set global politics on fire for months. His last words, saying "I can't breathe," became a rallying cry for Black Americans and others worldwide. I remember the rupture that his brutal death caused in quarantined and cautious New York. Despite COVID-19 risks, thousands of people took to the streets in protest of Floyd's death in May, Breonna Taylor's in March, Ahmaud Arbery's in February and countless others all summer long.
When I read that Floyd was a Houstonian and graduated from my high school, I took the loss personally. I saw and shared floods of photographs taken during protests in Downtown Houston, donated to mutual aid funds and grieved with my hometown 1,400 miles away. What struck me most was that the death of this Houstonian shook the entire world and every system within it to its core.
Born in North Carolina in 1973, Floyd came of age in the heart of Houston's Third Ward. He lived in the Cuney Homes and was a championship-winning football and basketball star at Jack Yates High School, where he adopted the nickname "Big Floyd." Although he grew up a noted athlete, the thing that helped define his legacy postmortem was music. After a short stint playing basketball on scholarship at Florida State, Floyd returned to Houston and found a passion for rapping. He was part of the legendary Screwed Up Click and had guest verses on several of DJ Screw's mixtapes, many of which resurfaced following Floyd’s tragic death. While in Houston, Floyd navigated a series of hardships, and he eventually moved to Minneapolis in hopes of a fresh start.
In a rare American attempt toward justice, all officers involved in Floyd's death were declared guilty. Derek Chauvin, the primary perpetrator, received a 22-year sentence more than a year after Floyd’s murder. Even so, in the two years since Big Floyd’s final cry was heard around the world, there's still so much to be done.