St. Olaf College | News

Taylor Center hosts conversation with members of George Floyd’s family

A black and white photo shows a young girl looking on a memorial for George Floyd.
Grieving community members created a memorial to George Floyd near the South Minneapolis corner where he was murdered at the hands of police this May. Photo by María Pabón

The St. Olaf College Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion hosted a powerful conversation with members of George Floyd’s family about his legacy and the movement for racial justice.

Minister, activist, and scholar Nyle Fort moderated the October 2 virtual conversation with Angela Harrelson and Selwyn Jones, George Floyd’s aunt and uncle.

Floyd’s May 25 murder at the hands of Minneapolis police set off national and international waves of protests, self-reflection, and calls for action and systemic change. Yet for Harrelson and Jones, the horrific murder of the nephew nicknamed “Perry” brought deep personal pain as well.

“I still can’t believe it,” Jones said while recalling first hearing about Floyd’s murder. “I can remember the time, the second, the moment.” 

Harrelson said Floyd’s courage in fighting for his life has inspired her to take action. With the goal of creating a permanent memorial to her nephew, she has frequently been returning to the memorial site in South Minneapolis where he died, and finding strength in the community of people who have come to pay their respects to Floyd. Jones has been traveling across the country and participating in webinars to promote discussion about issues of racism and civil rights. 

Their racial justice work is spurred by their intent to make sure that Floyd did not die in vain. Jones said that he sees Floyd as the catalyst of a movement. Although the Black community has been facing state violence in the U.S. for more than 400 years, this is the first time that he and Harrelson have felt that something is truly changing. 

“I believe now we do have a chance,” Jones said. “We can do this, but we have to do it together.”

Fort helped guide the conversation throughout, providing background on how systemic racism has impacted the Black community through the prison system, police violence, and the economy, and explaining that the protests following Floyd’s death are the largest to date in American history. But despite the history of oppression and violence that Black Americans have faced, Fort said that the protests, and the efforts of Harrelson and Jones, have given him hope.

“That’s not just your words, that’s your walk,” Fort said, referring to the work Harrelson and Jones are doing to preserve Floyd’s legacy. Fort urged the audience to see Harrelson and Jones as models of what individual people can do to further the fight for justice. 

During the Q&A portion of the event, Fort, Harrelson, and Jones addressed topics such as the danger of white silence and the importance of continued anti-racist action. Harrelson and Jones also described the ways that they are finding hope in the movement. Harrelson emphasized the importance of taking care of yourself and taking time to grieve, while Jones stressed the need to never give up. Acknowledging the importance of both these approaches, Fort explained that “social movements are team sports,” and that while not everyone can do everything — nor should they — everyone must do something in order to ensure that love and justice prevail. 

With solemn reminders of the anti-racist work that is yet to be done, the event ultimately provided a message of hope during a time of uncertainty and turmoil, and urged the St. Olaf community to take action. Harrelson emphasized that this is no time for complacency — everyone needs to show up. As Jones said, “No matter how small your voice is, it means something.”