Flipping through today’s Philadelphia Inquirer’s Parade Magazine, I couldn’t help but to pause at the headline ‘What to Watch on Juneteenth.’ Parade Magazine suggests that if you find yourself stuck in the house today feeling Juneteeth starved, fire up your streaming device and satisfy that itch by binge watching ROOTS, GLORY, QUEEN, AMISTAD, HARRIET, ANTEBELLUM, THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, MISS JUNETEENTH, and DJANGO UNCHAINED. My only reaction is, who comes up with this stuff?

If I may offer a suggestion for those of you requiring a more contemporary piece of content, start reading ‘His Name Is George Floyd – One man’s life and the struggle for racial justice’ by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa.

What do you remember most about the summer of 2020, Covid-19 or George Floyd? Both have left their mark on the world as lingering effects continue to carry on well into 2022. 

2020 was the year Ahmaud Arbery (age 25) was murdered in Georgia on February 23, followed by Breonna Taylor (26) in Louisville on March 13. Just as the Covid-19 pandemic was gaining traction, George Floyd (46) lost his life on May 25 as the world exploded in protests that lingered for months. Just when we thought it couldn’t happen again (not really), Rayshard Brooks (27) was murdered on June 12 setting Atlanta on fire. 

Years earlier there were the Eric Garner (43) killing in 2014 and the Philando Castile (32) killing in 2017, both of which I took particularly hard. By the time 2020 rolled around, I had developed some type of coping mechanism to help me process these continued killings without losing my mind. But there was something about George Floyd that made me want to know more about him than any of the others. When the ‘His Name is George Floyd’ book was released, I ignored all reviews and dove in headfirst hoping to satisfy my curiosity. 

When I cracked the cover, I didn’t expect to get so much detail on who George Floyd really was. With my introduction to him in 2020 through the never-ending news cycle, my mind was fixed on being taken back to the knee on his neck, the protests, and the police officer’s conviction. I was surprised to read a book that read as an autobiography fashioned like an urban drama. Once I started, I couldn’t stop reading. The best way to describe it comes from a quote in the book from his girlfriend at the time of his death who says, ‘George Floyd is what people what him to be. Floyd is who he is.’

That’s exactly what I was looking for. I wanted to know Floyd. 

The authors amassed hundreds of hours of interviews from the people who knew George Floyd best and crafted the story of his life like he was telling it himself. His early life growing up in the all black 3rd Ward of Houston is so indicative of some guys I grew up with in Chester with strong family ties, strong faith, a love of sports, challenging times in underfunded schools, run ins with the law and prison, fatherhood, squandered opportunities, addiction, depression, and attempts to start anew by relocating to new surroundings. The surprising chapter 3 takes a deep dive into the ancestry of his family dating back to slavery where they emerged in Reconstruction as wealthy landowners only to have it all snatched right from under them leaving generations of Floyd’s family locked into poverty and desperation.

The later parts of the book provides enlightened details you won’t see on the news or read in newspaper articles. You get a different view on what happened the day he went to the store and ended up with his face planted in the sidewalk, as well as the aftermath with the police side of the story, the trial, the protests, the millions awarded to the family, and the impact all this had on his closest friends, family and those who took up his cause. 

You’ll get no spoilers here other than to say how much of the book reads as a cautionary tale that ironically provides little by way of protecting men like Floyd from avoiding the traps he got ensnared in. 

Of all the unarmed black men murdered by police, none has had the impact on this nation as George Floyd.

The book reminds us…

  • Floyd’s ordeal pushed workplaces to make Juneteenth a national holiday.
  • News organizations debated if they should capitalize the B in black.
  • The Associated Press decided it would no longer release mug shots or the names of suspects involved in minor crimes because of the lasting impact of those who might be falsely accused.
  • Walmart stop locking up multicultural beauty products in display cases.
  • Sephora committed to devote 15% of their shelf space to black owned beauty brands.
  • Legos suspended marketing of police themed sets.
  • The countries 50 biggest companies committed $49.5 billion to address racial inequality.
  • Quaker Oats got rid of Aunt Jemima on the syrup bottle and replaced it with Pearl Milling Company (or that knockoff in the feature photo).
  • Uncle Ben’s Rice lost its family connection and is now Ben’s Original.
  • Disney reimaged Splash Mountain from being an homage to its racist 1946 song of the south, Dixie.
  • The Washington Redskins took the slur out its name.
  • The Cleveland Indians became the Cleveland Guardians.
  • More than 160 confederate statues were removed or replaced including on the Mississippi State flag.
  • 16 states now have restricted use of the neck restraint.

George Floyd and Covid-19 will forever go down as the biggest stories of 2020. The changes they both created will be with us for generations. Although we probably won’t see another Covid-like pandemic for years to come, sadly, we can’t say the same for another George Floyd-like incident.