I have had trouble sleeping for months now. First it was Covid-19 and our new world. Now, it’s the heartbreaking death of George Floyd. I was lying in my bed the last couple of nights thinking about our country and the undercurrent of racism that has plagued us as people and a nation. I was thinking of Dr. King marching in peace and being killed because he stood for equality. I thought of George Floyd’s family and the pain they are feeling losing a loved one. And I keep seeing the video of George Floyd taking his last breath as police officers stood and watched. I’ve wondered what I would say to George Floyd if I could- so I decided to write him a letter and I thought I would share it with you.
Dear Mr. Floyd-
We don’t know each other, yet you’ve changed my life. Today our country is hurting and has been turned inside out because of you. Thank you. You didn’t chose to lay down your life for your country, but you did. Your death has caused our country to feel a pain that we have needed to feel for a very long time. I am so sorry that you died alone on a street in a city that we both love. I can’t imagine how scared you were grasping for air and wondering if this was your end. I see the video and all I want to do is tackle the officer who so callously saw you as less than human when he put his knee on your neck. I can’t imagine the fear and humiliation you felt lying face down on a hot street while being suffocated. I can’t imagine the fear you felt realizing that no one was going to help you. I am so sorry that you suffered a death unimaginable to most of us. I am so sorry that no one helped you, especially those who were sworn to serve and protect you. I am sorry that it took your death to wake me up to the change that needs to must happen.
As you were lying there gasping for life, you showed kindness. You said please. You were a “gentle giant” according to your family and you could have fought back, but you didn’t. You addressed the officer with respect saying “please, I can’t breathe.” My heart hurts seeing you hurting, being respectful and still being ignored. Here is what I want you to know though, your death is changing not just our country, but the world. No one stood up for you that day, but they are today. Black, white and brown are marching for change because of you. Moms and dads pushing strollers, kids holding signs that say ‘Black Lives Matter’ and police officers linking arms with protesters. We are listening and willing to accept our racism and we desire change. The looting and violence is there, but it’s not the whole story. The looters don’t represent the protesters, just like the hideous police officers that did this to you don’t represent the good and honest men and women in blue. We are a broken country that has finally had enough and is demanding change.
No one makes change until their reality is so uncomfortable that they can’t do anything else. That is the legacy you’re leaving behind. Real reformation and change. For some of us that’s marching, for others it’s writing a check, some will start voting in local elections for the first time and some will flood their social media with the messages that needs to be heard. We’re finding our voice and a way to no longer be silent. We’re all starting to see that just because we’ve never experienced your perspective as a black man, doesn’t mean it’s not real. We’re listening. We’re getting involved and demanding real change to policies and laws. We’re also educating our friends and family who don’t understand why “all lives matter” or “I’m color blind” is offensive and why staying silent shouldn’t be an option. We won’t get this perfect, we will make mistakes, but we will move change forward. We want to acknowledge reality and listen. Listen for perspectives that we’ve never experienced and are uncomfortable acknowledging.
Before I end this, I also want to thank you on a personal level. I have two nephews with black skin who could have been you. It terrifies me to think of anyone seeing them less than or prematurely guilty because of the color of their skin. They are good young men with good hearts. That is exactly how your family describes you. It’s also why I know with certainty that we are one people, yet see and celebrate our differences. Thank you for being the beacon of light and truth that we have needed. I’m sorry too, it shouldn’t have taken your life for us to open our eyes.