Bridgett Floyd, the younger sister of George Floyd, looked out into the sea of faces at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Friday, August 28 — the same spot and date the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech 57 years ago.
“I want you to ask yourself right now,” Floyd said. “How would the history books remember you? What would be your legacy? Will your future generations remember you for your complacency? Your inaction? Or will they remember you for your empathy, your leadership, your passion?”
Thousands of people heard Bridgett Floyd’s words, as they marched in the nation’s capital to demand reform in policing and criminal justice nationwide. George Floyd’s death at the hands of police on May 25 in Minneapolis reignited a national movement for police accountability, with daily protests that have yet to cease. The Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks was intentionally not called the March on Washington to denote that it wasn’t just a “commemoration march.”
“Whether they are rallying on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial or from the safety of their homes and community streets, people are meeting this moment with demands and hope for change,” according to a statement from the National Action Network, which was founded by Rev. Al Sharpton. “Today is a day that all across the nation, in the midst of stacked pandemics – COVID-19 and racism – we address the national government and demand improved policing practices so that we stop the unwarranted killing and incarcerations of Black people.”
The six-hour program included a speech from St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner. Gardner explained that prosecutors play a key role in meeting these demands and have a duty to “pursue justice, not merely convictions.”
“As an African-American reformer prosecutor, when you hold police accountable like everyone else, you are threatened with death threats and acts of violence against you,” Gardner said. “You’re also investigated. You even have President Donald Trump and the powerful falsely accuse you of being the cause of criminal acts and lawlessness in your community. But enough is enough, and we are going to fight for justice for all.”
Gardner, along with many of the speakers, emphasized the need to vote on November 3 and to fight to prevent voter suppression.
Martin Luther King III, who organized the march with Sharpton, stepped up to the podium, but immediately gave the stage to his 12-year-old daughter, Yolanda Renee King — an absolute powerhouse. She asked the crowd if they remembered when she spoke at the March For Our Lives in 2018 in Washington, D.C.
“I said, ‘Spread the word, have you heard all across the nation, we are going to be a great generation,’” Yolanda King said. “That was in 2018. I didn’t know what would hit us in 2020. A pandemic that hit our schools and put our young lives on hold. More killings of unarmed Black people by police. Attacks on our rights to vote. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression that we learned about in school. And more extreme weather than ever before. But great challenges produce great leaders.”
She encouraged her generation to join her in working to dismantle systemic racism “once and for all, now and forever.”
Her father followed up, saying, “We stand together in the symbolic shadow of history. Not only do I come as a protestor, but I come as a victim. My daddy was killed when I was 10 years old, gunned down by an assassin’s bullet... I refuse to allow any person to reduce me to hatred.”
The program focused on the families of those who have lost loved ones to police brutality — including Letetra Widman, the sister seven times in the back and left paralyzed by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Her entire speech is worth printing:
“America, unapologetically I’m here to tell you in front of the world that you got the right one. God has prepared me. America, your reality is not real. Catering to your delusions is no longer an option. We will not pretend. We will not be a docile slave. We will not be a footstool to oppression. Most of all, we will not dress up this genocide and call it police brutality. We will only pledge allegiance to the truth,” Widman said.
“Black America, I hold you accountable. You must stand and you must fight, but not with violence and chaos. With self-love. Learn to love yourself, Black people. Unify. Group economics. Black women, you are your brother’s keeper. I know it’s heavy, but forgive him and heal. His manhood was taken from him a long time ago. Build him up. Black children, read. Learn. Grow. And live. And question everything. Black men, stand up. Stand up, Black men. Educate yourself and protect the Black family unit, period.”
The full program can be viewed at https://nationalactionnetwork.net/.
Blessing of being Black
On the evening of August 28, people around the country attended the all-virtual Black National Convention, where two of the three main organizers— Kayla Reed and Jessica Byrd – were from St. Louis.
While it appeared to be a hip, slick five-hour live event with interviews from caucuses throughout the country, it was actually a pre-recorded documentary produced by dream hampton (lowercase intentional) known for the “Finding Justice” series on BET.
In October 2018, Reed, Byrd and Rukia Lumumba launched the Electoral Justice Project, an initiative by the Movement for Black Lives, that fights for the advancement of the rights of Black folks through electoral strategy.
Reed and Byrd met while working to elect Tishaura O. Jones as mayor of the City of St. Louis in 2017.
“After she lost by 888 votes, they gathered around Jessica’s kitchen table and charted the course to build a community of Black electoral activists working in every corner of the country, who are accountable to movement and utilize elections as a tactic in the journey toward Black power and self-determination,” according to a video shown during the convention.
St. Louis Rev. Michelle Higgins, who is also part of the core team, said they began to plan the event last year and wanted it to fall on the heels of the Democratic and Republican national conventions.
“We recognize that voting alone will not change the conditions plaguing Black communities, but we understand that with strategic political actions, we can make immediate interventions as we move toward ensuring that all Black people live full, safe and prosperous lives,” according to a Black National Convention statement.
The convention was not intentionally planned on the same day as the march, but once both groups realized the overlap, they began to work together to amplify each other’s messages, Higgins said.
“I believe that tonight is the answer to a lot of our questions. Hundreds of people got together and worked hard to create the liberation agenda that you will see ratified tonight. And those are people who are part of the non-monolithic, welcoming, inclusive space that is Blackness,” Higgins said during the Red Carpet event before the convention began.
“No matter who is in the White House, we know what the Black liberation agenda will be, and that is inclusive of the faith journey, inclusive of multi-abilities, inclusive of trans bodies, it is inclusive of a Blackness that all of us are blessed to bear. Tonight is about the blessing of being Black.”
The Red Carpet hostess and entertainment journalist Gia Peppers immediately clapped her hands together in agreement.
“The blessing of being Black! Thank you so much for saying that because I receive that and I’m sure everyone watching does too.”
The full Black National Convention can be viewed at blacknovember.org.