With Dr. Celeste Watkins-Hayes, Angela Harrelson, aunt of George Floyd and author of Lift Your Voice will share her journey into racial justice activism and her work in this space. January, 2023.
0:00:01.2 Celeste Watkins-Hayes: Wonderful. And welcome to the Winter 2023 Masterclass in Activism, hosted by the Center for Racial Justice at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and co-sponsored by Democracy and Debate at the University of Michigan. I am Celeste Watkins-Hayes, the founding director of the Center for Racial Justice, Interim Dean of the Ford School of Public Policy and Professor of Sociology. At the Ford School and at the Center for Racial Justice, we seek a world in which people are able to achieve their full human potential regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and other categories that have been used to divide and marginalize people. We train leaders who understand the critical role of public policy in improving our world. We recognize the power of public policy to bolster or undercut our life opportunities and experiences.
0:01:15.4 CW: And we see policy analysis at the Ford School as a critically important tool for us to measure, reflect, historically examine, and help us define the way forward. As we examine the fraught histories and consequences of some of our policies and the transformative power of others, we learn a valuable lesson, effective and just public policy can only be achieved if we bring diverse perspectives to the table. The masterclass in activism is a widely advertised event series that centers and uplifts noted activists, scholars, and thought leaders who have made significant marks on the racial justice landscape. I am delighted and humbled to introduce you to Miss Angela Harrelson.
0:01:42.1 Angela Harrelson: Thank you.
0:01:45.7 AH: Thank you.
0:01:49.0 CW: Angela Harrelson is the aunt of George Floyd, a caretaker of the George Floyd Global Memorial that commemorates the site of George Floyd's murder, the co-chair of the Memorial board of directors, and the author of this amazing book, Lift Your Voice: How My Nephew George Floyd's Murder Changed The World. Angela, I wanna begin by thanking you for being with us today. And it's an absolute honor and to foreshadow the conversation, I wanna walk us through a conversation in which we talk about the roots of your activism and your insights and observations as caretaker of your nephew's memorial and the key issues driving your activism and how you think about your toolkit as an activist. But first I wanna ask you, who was Perry?
0:02:42.6 AH: I'm glad that you asked that because after his murder, his name became more like a hashtag to some people because that's what they knew. But to me he was family. He was family. And I laid eyes on my nephew when he was about five years old. And at that time, his mother is my sister named Cissy because my mother had 14 children, 14 children. Ten girls and four boys. And one of the girls was his mother, my sister. And my sister often came to live with us because of hard times. She's a single mother trying to make it, take care of three kids.
0:03:35.1 AH: And I remember seeing Perry, he was running around playing and one of the things that I noticed about him so young, but so humble, because see we lived in a broke down house, outhouse, very little running water. But when Perry came around and she brought him, he didn't complain. He went to go use the outhouse, he was standing on this little wooden block and try to pump the water, we show him and he did it. And he didn't complain about it. He didn't complain about it, and as he got older, and my sister got a little bit better they moved and migrated to Houston. And Houston's where he grew up, you hear about it in Houston. And when he was in the second grade, he wanted to be a Supreme Court judge. [chuckle] He wanted to be a Supreme Court judge, he wanted to be an NFL player, he wanted to be an NBA player. He had all these dreams. He was really, really, really good in sports. But my sister lived in a really, really tough neighborhood. Community homes, the projects, drugs there, a lot... An environment that wasn't really healthy. But my sister did the best she can.
0:04:53.5 AH: And Perry often struggled with helping my sister with his younger nieces and brother raising them, helping my sister raise her grandkids and trying to go to school. He was the eldest son, he was the first to graduate from high school and he really wanted to do well in college, but he just was like a tug of war. "Do I help mom? How do I go to college? I don't have the money." So he ended up getting in a lot of trouble, doing drugs 'cause I have to be transparent. And it's important to be transparent. And he got in some trouble, he ended up doing time, trying to make quick money, one things lead to another. But it's like he did it for the right reasons, but it was the wrong choice. That's the best way to put it. And so when he went to prison, that was something that he totally regret. My sister was devastated. We all was devastated. That was her first child to ever to experience that incarceration. And so after he got out he made a promise to her that he would do better. And he tried, he changed his life around when he got out. But here's the thing, he was still in the same neighborhood.
0:06:14.0 AH: I kind of went fast forward on you guys. He was in the same neighborhood, so that was really hard for him. But even when he got out he still would reach out to the pastors to help him do outreach work, to help the young black challenged teens 'cause they thought a lot of him, because he had this history of being a great basketball player, football player. So when a pastor would come in that neighborhood and try to round up 50 people, they couldn't do it, but Perry, he could come in there and say, "Hey, y'all, let's go." Everybody come. So he did really, really important outreach work, but he had challenges with his sobriety. So when he got a chance, he said, "You know what? I'm gonna change my life around." Remember the word, change. "I'm gonna change my life around." And he reached out to a pastor in Minneapolis and he reached out to that pastor, and that pastor worked with him. And he came to Minneapolis to make a change.
0:07:18.9 CW: And in the book you talk about part of what brought him to Minneapolis was he was seeking treatment.
0:07:24.2 AH: Yeah.
0:07:24.4 CW: Drug treatment.
0:07:25.1 AH: And he came. When he came here, he went to a treatment center called Turning Point because he felt like he needed a change from the environment, and when he changed...
0:07:35.3 CW: He wanted a fresh start.
0:07:36.3 AH: A fresh start and he was so happy. Perry was happy... I remember when I got that call, he said, "Auntie, I'm here." I'm like, "Where?" [chuckle]
0:07:44.5 CW: 'Cause you live in Minneapolis too, people should know.
0:07:46.0 AH: I live in Minneapolis. I didn't believe he was here, but it was like... It was just... We just... We would talk every night. We had conversation. He even remembered when he was five years old, me doing cheerleading practices. I said, I didn't know he was watching me do the cheerleading practices, but he remember those things that I had no idea that he was watching me do as a teenager. But he came here and he went to Turning Point. He went through the treatment, did really well. He was working on not one, not two, but three jobs. And when I was worried about it, I said, "You know what, why don't you come work at the hospital?" He said, "I'm gonna do that." So he was working on getting things together to come and work at the hospital and stuff.
0:08:30.6 CW: 'Cause you're a nurse that works on substance abuse issues and a lot of other things.
0:08:35.0 AH: Yes, I worked in... I've been a nurse for 30 years and out of 30 years, 10 of those years I worked in substance abuse. So I knew, I knew about detox and withdrawal symptoms and the causes, so I knew all of the medical side of it. And so I was like, you know what, he's my family. I can be a good ear for him, good support system. It's gonna be okay, it's gonna be okay, but when my sister passed away, that was a turning point for Perry.
0:09:07.4 CW: Because this book in a lot of ways is about grief.
0:09:12.5 AH: Yes.
0:09:12.8 CW: It's about your grief, but it's also about his grief.
0:09:17.6 AH: 'Cause I don't think he ever got over her because they were each other's heartbeat.
0:09:23.9 CW: And tell me what happened after his mother died.
0:09:27.5 AH: Oh, we went... I remember when she died and I was talking to Perry. I said, "Perry, we gotta go to the funeral." And I said, "We need to get there quick." He said, "I just wanna drive." I said, "Well, okay." I was worried about him driving, but he said he had friends with him to help him because... But he said he'd be okay and...
0:09:48.9 CW: What were you worried about with him driving?
0:09:52.5 AH: I don't know because I... 'Cause his mind, when you're going through something that painful... And remember, he came to Minneapolis to make a change. And one thing that was important for him was for his mother to see this change, and I wish some way I could have conveyed to him, she sees you climbing towards success. She sees that. You don't have to accomplish it, but she sees it, and she was proud of that. And that was the message that she left for him, and I don't think he allowed himself to see that.
0:10:34.7 CW: So you talk about in the book how, even before his mother died, he was going through a grieving process about how his life was unfolding and what it could have been versus what it was, the dreams that he held for himself versus the realities that he was trying to navigate. And your sister passes away and he's dealing with that very visceral grief, and then you all lose touch.
0:11:01.2 AH: Yeah. We lost touch and I kept calling Perry. I thought, well, maybe he got his phone disconnected, but Perry was always getting his phone disconnected. But then I call his sisters and they said, "We don't know where he is." And I'm like, okay. I didn't know what to do, but my mind was going to that place that as a professional that worked in substance abuse, I knew in here that he had relapsed. I didn't want to tell myself that, but at the same time, I say, you know what, if he has done that, he always would come back. He would always find his way back.
0:11:51.5 CW: And tell me what happened next, two years later.
0:11:56.6 AH: Two years later? He didn't get a chance to come back. I got a phone call because I was... I would hear things about Perry and I would try my best to reach out to him, but no one can pull him and then I always hoped for that comeback, but then I got a call from a news reporter. A news reporter, and that was devastating news that I had.
0:12:43.8 CW: So it's not common for us to be at home and a reporter calls our house.
0:12:49.9 AH: Yeah. When he called, it's like I was just so taken back by it because he called and he said, "Is this Angela Harrelson?" I said, "Well, yes it is." He said, "I'm calling about the murder of your nephew, George Floyd." And I'm thinking I was... Honestly, my mind was not even there because I called him Perry, the family we all know him as Perry, but I hadn't heard anything. I haven't seen the TV. I haven't watched the TV, no family members had got in touch with me. I honestly, nothing clicked. And he kept saying it, "Are you Angela Harrelson?" I said, "Well, yes I am." He said, "I am calling about the murder of your nephew, George Floyd." And when I... I just put the phone down, I said, "You must have the wrong family," because nothing clicked. But little did I know it was my family.
0:14:00.2 CW: So you found out about Perry's death from a reporter calling your house and asking how you felt about it?
0:14:08.7 AH: Yeah. Later I found out a lot of the family members found out through that way.
0:14:13.7 CW: Oh my gosh.
0:14:16.5 AH: Yes, yes. And after I hung their phone up, I got this restless spirit. Something would not sit right. And I don't know, there was something in that news reporter's voice, because it was too serious to be a scam. And I get the scam calls. There was something about that voice that made me say, "Okay, check your messages." So I checked my messages. I said, "Oh, my goodness, I've never got all these messages before." And then I said, well, I checked my voicemail. And I'm like, "Oh, my goodness. Why are there people... All these voicemail messages?"
0:14:54.6 AH: So finally I got, there was a text that said, "Call as soon as possible." I called. And the first thing, what my sibling said, "Angela, the police killed Perry." And when they said that, I just was in shock. But my mind went right back to the news reporter because it was like, "Oh, my God. The news reporter was telling the truth. He was telling the truth." And then simultaneously, my husband walks in the door, "Angela," yelling to turn the TV on. All this is going. I feel like I'm in a daze at this point, and I'm in a daze at this point. And he said, "Come in here." So I come in there and I came and the TV's right there, and I got the chance to watch the tail end of it. And there was Perry. And I said, Perry. And then he was saying, "I can't breathe." And then he said, "Mama, mama." And he was gone. That was the part that all I saw. And I remember I just dropped like almost on my knees, near the couch, and I thank God that my husband was there. And I'm saying, "What did I just watch?"
0:16:25.1 AH: I thought I just watched a modern day lynching. That's how I felt. I was very emotional. I was crying. I was angry. I was mad. My anxiety was through the roof. I couldn't think I was getting confused. And I was getting on the phone. We was doing two-way calls. We were doing three-way calls, conference calls. Everybody on the phone, family member was calling one another. And we're always trying to call each other thinking, we're trying to find another answer than what we heard. And finally, we got tired of talking all night. And it was extremely emotional and I was just glad that my husband was there to help me get through it, because not in a million years did I expect to hear that.
0:17:17.4 CW: And when we think about the horror of watching that unfold on national television, and as we all know, some of his last words, Perry's last words, were, "Mama, mama." And as you read the book and in this conversation, you realize just the significance of what he was saying?
0:17:44.5 AH: Yeah. Because there were a lot of people didn't know that his mother was dead. But close family members and friends, we did. So I knew what it meant because... At that moment, I believe that when he said that, he saw her spiritually, we couldn't see her. But I believe he did. It was like she said, "It's okay, you can come." And he was gone.
0:18:20.3 CW: The culmination of his grief being in the moment where he's losing his life?
0:18:25.4 AH: Yeah. He preached his feeling through that. A lot of people don't know it. He said, "I can't breathe," 28 times, 28 times. He said that to those police officers. And at the end of the day, all he was doing was asking for help. That's all.
0:18:50.0 CW: One of the things that's so powerful about the statement, "I can't breathe", and the symbolism of an individual having their neck on another individual was... In the book, you write about your family's long history of having somebody on your family's neck. You talk about your great great great grandparents and slavery.
0:19:25.1 AH: Yeah. Actually, my great grandparents.
0:19:28.2 CW: Great grandparents.
0:19:29.5 AH: Great grandparents.
0:19:30.4 CW: Great great grandparents.
0:19:31.0 AH: Hillery Thomas Stewart Sr. He was my great-grandfather. Hillery Thomas Stewart Senior is my great-grandfather and he was born a slave, and he didn't get his, they called it free papers. He didn't get his free papers till he was eight years old, and he was... My grandparents said he was a very hardworking man, and by the age of 21 he had bought, he had accumulated over 500 acres of land. But unfortunately because he couldn't read and write, the family lost all that land, and ended up mostly, a generation of sharecropping. But one thing that was passed along, they wanted me to make sure I knew who my great-grandparents were and their names, and that's why I made sure I put that acknowledgement in that book because they would work really hard and they tried really hard. Grandpa, Hillery and my grandparents and my parents, they tried really hard and we didn't have much. But they had that faith, they believed in God and they persevered through the sweat of their brow because they worked sun up and sun down.
0:20:52.5 AH: We grew up in tobacco fields, not naturally growing up. I'm talking about working in the tobacco fields. I know what that's like, but one thing they taught us was to persevere. They taught us about hard work. They taught us to believe in faith and when your back is against the wall and what you have to do and you keep declaring that faith and you keep pushing through till you get there. And they had those dreams for all. My mother had a dream for all 14 children, and my grandpa, my great-grandfather, they were 20 in his family, 20 children.
0:21:36.9 CW: And one of the things that is so interesting about Perry's story is that it's, and your family's story is situated in a larger context. The legacy of slavery, the sharecropping system that, we think of that as something that was happening decades and decades and decades ago. But your family was in the sharecropping system until when?
0:22:02.7 AH: In the '70s and the '80s with sharecropping.
0:22:06.9 CW: 1970s, 1980s.
0:22:07.2 AH: Yeah 1970s and 1980s. It wasn't until close to high school I think, that my father got a job, either middle high school, he got a job. He thought he had upgraded and the first job he got is a cook. And back then in Goldsboro, they still had the signs on the door that said, White only. This was in the early '70s.
0:22:34.1 CW: In the early '70s.
0:22:36.1 AH: And this was in the early '70s so, yeah.
0:22:40.6 CW: And as we think about that intergenerational wealth, the other important thing about your story is because your family had worked as sharecroppers that was a profession that was written out of social security policy, right?
0:23:01.3 AH: Yeah.
0:23:01.3 CW: We know from 1935 New Deal Act, the two professions that are written out of eligibility for social security benefits, domestic workers and agricultural workers, and what are most Black people doing in the 1930s. And that legacy ends up following your family so that by the time your parents were elderly...
0:23:28.4 AH: My mother, they didn't have anything. Yeah, it's so true. And 'cause we not only worked in the tobacco fields, we had to work in the chicken houses they call them, where you pick up eggs and stuff. And one day when she got ready to go to try to see if she can get money for disability, social security, there was really nothing there. It's because they didn't file the taxes and do all that stuff. So when you did the sharecropping work, they paid you mostly cash or they paid you check, but they didn't declare any of it. And so a lot of them just died broke without anything and accumulated a lot of health problems at it, bad health, it was really, really hard. And we got mostly our school clothes by working in the tobacco fields in the summer, because that's all we knew.
0:24:25.6 CW: And people should know, the sharecropping system, the land is owned by the White farmer, and the arrangement is your family works the fields and in exchange they get...
0:24:39.9 AH: They stay in free housing.
0:24:41.4 CW: They get free housing.
0:24:42.6 AH: And some people prefer to call it homestead. But here's the thing, if you call in sick or you can't work, you're pretty much out of the house. I remember my father talking about a gentleman worked so hard for over 30, 40 years. And one day, the first time he ever called in sick and he said, "I'm sick, I'm not feeling well." And the farmer told him that you have to move, but he continued to work till he was sick because you didn't own anything and you fear of being put not in the streets. So you did what you had to do.
0:25:29.9 CW: So as a result, what we see in families who have grown up in this system of racial cast, let's just call it what it is...
0:25:43.3 AH: Cast.
0:25:44.8 CW: You often see this struggle around intergenerational wealth and when I was reading your story, I told you I felt like I was reading parts of my own family story, right? So my family was able to accumulate a little bit of land in the south, always a feeling of anxiety and vulnerability. I still wonder how in the world were they able to keep those 20 acres? How did that happen? And as families try to navigate this system, some people are able to get access to education. And I would love for you to talk about your experience doing that. And then there ends up being this diversity within the family because not everybody can navigate in the same way.
0:26:30.3 AH: That's true.
0:26:32.4 CW: Not everybody can deal with that struggle in the same way. And you see a variety of coping strategies.
0:26:40.3 AH: Exactly.
0:26:40.4 CW: Yeah, yeah.
0:26:42.4 AH: Yeah.
0:26:43.1 CW: Tell us how you became a nurse.
0:26:44.3 AH: I became a nurse... [laughter] Well, initially I wanted to become a lawyer, an attorney. But that didn't work out too well. Well, 'cause when I first moved away from home and got the courage, 'cause I had a sister that moved from New York and moved to Iowa. And so I had big dreams. I said, "Okay, this is my chance, this is my chance." And then I remember going, I was very young and I signed up for the classes, they told me. And then one day I was called into the office. Not the principal office, but the counselor back then they called him and I don't know what... I remember his name very, very well. I'm not gonna call it, I still remember him. He said, "I'm racist." He said, "I don't teach Black people law." Pretty much he summed it up. And I got frightened and I got intimidated because what I experienced down south. So being so young, I still felt powerless. And I'm thinking here, I moved away. I'm chasing the dream and I'm trying to go to school. And he told me that he doesn't teach Black people 'cause he racist. He was just boldly said that. It was a college in Iowa.
0:28:19.3 AH: So I said, you know what? I think maybe I try something else 'cause I was scared. Because I was raised up... Unfortunately, my mother was raised up very passive because she was raised up in a time being a sharecropper that you respect White people. You do whatever they say is correct and you don't question them because they were taught they are the better race. And so when that was... And that was passed along. And see my mom, she did that a lot because she was trying to protect us because she grew up in a time that when you question them, you get put out in the house because they had so much power and that's why.
0:29:07.3 AH: And so when he said that to me, that triggered, I said, you know what, let me just leave this man alone. I feel good that I'm able to try to go to college. I'm almost there. I'm just gonna try to find another way. So I ended up going to school actually in psychology, studying behaviors and getting a degree in psychology. And then I did nursing And I got the courage to join the military to help me.
0:29:39.3 CW: And you're a army reservist? No, air force.
0:29:43.5 AH: I did three services. Back then they let you do three. I ended up with the Air Force Reserve. But I started off with the Army National Guard and I did one year in the Navy Reserve.
0:29:55.0 CW: So fast forward to 2020 and this horrific thing has happened and it is unfolding on national television. And you bring to that moment your history and biography, your family's history and biography, what you know about who Perry is. And you are thrust into the national spotlight and your family is, and your life is.
0:30:23.2 AH: Yes.
0:30:24.1 CW: Tell us about what happened in those days and weeks after his murder.
0:30:34.0 AH: There were just so much going on. It was chaos. The gatekeeper, community members, people like the gatekeeper and the community stood in for us when I, and I know the rest of the family was just too broken. And 'cause we didn't know what to do. It was like... 'cause I didn't know any of the community members. And I'm thinking, "Well, my God, who's gonna help us? Are they gonna be there for us? Are they gonna help us?" 'Cause I thought about Trayvon Martin and I'm thinking, no one's gonna help us. Historically, no one helped us. And I didn't know what to do. My family didn't know what to do. We was trying to go to the hearings and they were doing all the planning and everything was chaotic. And the protest, there was rioting and the memorial was there. And I was worried about Memorial. And little did I knew there was a little city of it's own being created in the memorial, while I'm going through this traumatic with community members forming and protecting the space, little did I know this was going on.
0:31:51.2 CW: Outside of the story.
0:31:52.8 AH: Yeah, outside all of this. It was just in [0:31:56.5] ____. And I'll probably come back to that. And at the time I wanted to be a voice to do something. And I'm trying to figure, Oh Lord, what can I do? I've never did activism before. I just don't know if I could do it. And so it was so emotional because all I could do was think about Perry all day. I think about him all day and I go to bed dreaming about it. And it just went on. I said, "What is God trying to tell me? Why am I keep thinking about this? I know I just wanna rest." But what came to me is what he was trying to reveal to me that, Angela. Perry, he was lying on that ground, handcuffed, handcuffed behind his back, and he was saying, "I can't breathe. I can't breathe." And what the words, the intuition, they spoke to me and that message was for me that if he can muster those words and find the courage to say, "I can't breathe" in those conditions with that man with the knee on his neck, then surely I can give you the strength to be a voice for him. I'm sorry. I need a moment.
0:33:31.7 CW: Take your time. Take your time.
0:33:37.5 AH: And that's what gave me the courage to step out, because he said he couldn't breathe 28 times when he was in pain. And it takes a lot of courage to say you can't breathe when you are in pain and when you are struggling for your life and you're fearing death at your door and you know that it's coming and you know no one is helping you. So here I am, I'm healthy, I'm grieving, I'm in pain, but I'm not experiencing what he is. So God showed me that I can do it, and he brought that anointing upon me and gave me that strength to do it and what build my strength that I had the courage to go out to the square.
0:34:34.1 AH: And when I went out to the square, it was the first time that I'd been without family. I'd been there a few times with family. That situation gave me a serious experience... I mean, it gave me the strength to go out there and that was my first walk alone out there. I did it. But when I did it, I started walking. I was worried, not worried about the square, but worried about can I make it when I break down. Is it gonna overwhelm me? 'Cause I didn't have the support of my family. But as I began to walk towards that memorial, there were people started coming to my left, there were people started walking to my right, and they knew my name and they said, "Ms. Angela, I'm with you." There were people coming from behind. So it was like they were saying, "I got you. I'm behind you. I got you."
0:35:38.0 AH: There were people that led me, that was with me, the gatekeeper. I remember when she came up that led the way and said, "I know who you are." She said, "I know who you are." And that led the way. That was the most spiritual, overwhelming, and it was joy that I had. I can do this, but I'm not alone. And that's when the community, I knew the importance of a community, and they wrapped their arms around me and we all been just family, family. And so as much as I can, I go out there and they've shared their stories with me and their strength and what they sacrificed. That community sacrificed not just their time, their money, but their life. Their life was threatened because they were trying to... They were fighting for justice for my nephew, Perry.
0:36:45.6 CW: In the middle of a pandemic.
0:36:47.1 AH: In the middle of a pandemic.
0:36:50.5 CW: People went outside and said no more.
0:36:51.2 AH: No more, no more. And that type of love became a nutrition to build the strength, the strength that God gave me to go on. And now we are all a family at the George Floyd Square. So if any of you guys come to visit, once you visit, we consider you family.
0:37:19.0 CW: Yeah. You mentioned the gatekeeper.
0:37:22.1 AH: Yes. This is our... Gatekeeper, stand up. [laughter] Okay. She's looking at me, "I'm too old." [laughter]
0:37:31.0 CW: But tell us why that is needed.
0:37:36.2 AH: The gatekeeper?
0:37:39.8 CW: Yes.
0:37:40.5 AH: The gatekeeper can tell her own story.
0:37:42.3 CW: Yeah.
0:37:42.9 AH: Is it okay?
0:37:44.5 CW: Yes.
0:37:44.7 AH: Can she come up here.
0:37:44.9 CW: Yes. Yeah.
0:37:45.3 AH: Do you mind telling your story? [laughter]
0:37:48.9 CW: Or do you want her to tell it?
0:37:49.0 AH: You want me to tell it?
0:37:49.4 CW: Would you like... Whatever you're comfortable with.
0:37:52.7 AH: Okay.
0:37:53.3 CW: Yeah.
0:37:54.6 AH: The gatekeeper, it was a position that was... Because I always say there's a difference between the anointed and the appointed. Some people are appointed to the positions, but there's something that's inside of you that God touches you and say, "This is what I want you to do, and I know you can do this." And the gatekeeper shows up and she goes out there. She's like the Madea of the George Floyd Square. That's how powerful her work is. And she's able to relate to anyone out there, no matter what color they are. She can de-escalate because of her history. She's a lady that's been through a lot in her life. Incredible wisdom. Fought a lot of fights, been through a lot of battles and is very well-respected in the community. We have all types of people that come out there to the square. Lawyers, doctors, celebrities, NFL owners, Nelson Mandela grandson, all types of people, homeless. We also have some gang-related people that come out there as well. And it took all these people to make this protest successful. But that lady right there, if there's anything going on, when she walks in that square, people stop and listen. They stop and listen.
0:39:29.1 CW: Because, and this is important. Not everybody's there for the right reason. Right. And even those who are there for the right reason, it's a coalition.
0:39:42.2 AH: Yeah.
0:39:42.4 CW: And not everybody's gonna agree. Not everybody's gonna have the same view of things. And in movement work, we often assume that it's, kumbaya every moment, but it's not. Social movements are messy and complicated and...
0:40:00.9 AH: There's a lot of layers that go on.
0:40:02.4 CW: There's a lot of layers to it.
0:40:04.3 AH: And when you're doing activism work, you also have to remember, not everyone is going to agree with you.
0:40:11.3 CW: Yeah.
0:40:12.1 AH: Not everyone is gonna agree with what you're fighting for. You may get the death threats. The family got death threats. Some of the activists, the community leaders got death threats, harassing phone calls, people following you. So when you are taking on this type of thing you have to know that not everyone is going to be for what you're fighting for. But one thing you have to realize is that if you wanna start something like this or whatever you do, you don't need everybody. You don't need 100 people. You can have three people and have a movement. You just need the right people. Just need the right people.
0:40:55.0 CW: And what did you wanna see happen as a result of his murder and the activism? People have broad goals, people had very specific goals, people had all kinds of ideas about what they wanted to see happen and how it should happen. What did you wanna see? What was your vision for what you wanted to see happen?
0:41:28.6 AH: That's a little tough question because a lot of things happened that I was so glad it did happen because after his death, there was an awareness that we never had about systemic racism. There was acknowledgement, there was a validation because for so long it was a sleeping giant for Brown and Black people. But for some reason it was a great awakening for White America. So when this happened, it created a conversation that was never there. I've never seen about race relations. And so that was incredible to see. There were a lot of great changes that are going on. The diversity equity programs that happened, police reform, the changes that are going through. There are cases that got opened because of the death of George Floyd. There's been a closer look into certain cases that were overlooked.
0:42:41.3 AH: There were jobs that were created for people that were never had before. It was wonderful to see how corporation stepped up. It was wonderful to see. The thing that we have to continue to work on, I think is mental health. I like to see mental health brought into the police force. Yes, there's police reform is going on. There's still more work to do. There's still more work to do. And because we just can't stop, because changes are happening. We have to keep going because the goal is not 20 and 30 years to hold the sign Black Lives Matter. That is not the goal. The goal is is that we do what we can to abolish this away. To get away from this. And this is where you young people come in at, the fierce young people come in at. Because one day we want to be able to not to be able to hold that sign. When we can reach that level where we don't have to say Black Lives Matter, that's when we know we have arrived. That's when we know we have arrived.
0:44:03.6 CW: And I wanna go back to your point about mental health. And I wonder if you can say more about that, because a lot of the conversation around the over-surveillance of communities of color, is around ensuring that people have access to mental health services such that law enforcement isn't called in when there's a mental health incident or people are getting access to mental health services, who are struggling with grief or other traumas as opposed to self-medicating through alcohol and drugs. But when you said that it also raised the question for me, in terms of mental health within the police force.
0:44:48.4 AH: Yeah. They need more mental health.
0:44:50.0 CW: Yeah. Yeah.
0:44:51.3 AH: I'm laughing about it, but it's real...
0:44:55.9 AH: They need a lot of it though. I think they should be psychological testing because let's face it, everybody's not cut out to be a police officer. It's just what it is. But what I'm finding, there's a certain type of individual, and Lord knows I hate the label that really get a thrill sometimes out of power and control, and it's like it just turns a button off. Because I see that... Because I work in mental health, I'm a mental health ICU nurse and I'm a charge nurse as well. So when I see a security guard getting a little too happy, then I have to step in and say, "No, this is not the way." And I have done that. I have done that. And so the police force somehow they need to work it in their system, their budget to offer their type of mental health for their police officers. They need to do a mental health testing. And I also think for people who are struggling mental health, when the police officers come, they may not know that person is struggling from mental health.
0:45:57.8 AH: Now, the problem with Brown and Black people, we've been labeled that we are more aggressive and more violent. So a lot of times they're not thinking about our mental health. I'm just keeping it real. But they gotta get to the point to say, "You know what? These people are human being. That something's not off. Can we get an expert here to re-evaluate this situation, to de-escalate the situation?" Of course if it's a mass murder, you can't do that. There things that's gotta be done. But I'm just talking about some of these situations, stopping people for minor violations and somehow the minor violation end up being escalated. A big fight. Someone's on the ground and the next thing you know the person dead. It shouldn't happen that way. And there's gotta be a better approach. It's gotta be... I mean, it's like... You can't... Just the police force be on... It's like they're a slave patrol. They see a suspect as runaway slaves. And they're not runaway slaves.
0:47:11.7 AH: They are human beings and you gotta give them a chance. Give them a chance, they're still human beings and you shouldn't be killed over a traffic light. I mean, you're stopped for a minor traffic violation and somehow it end up a disaster. So yes, I think mental health is so important. When they have a hostage situation, people in a hostage situation, what do they do, they call the hostage negotiator. He comes out, do whatever they can, they take care of that person. And unfortunately, most of the people that do these major hostages people often are White. So they get a hostage negotiator. [laughter] You know what I'm saying? They can be creative, they can do this. And it doesn't have to be this hard. It really doesn't. And I think the system, white supremacy, that's the proper thing for it, because they have made this harder than it really should have been, because they had spent so much energy planning, manipulating, strategizing these policies that are seen and unseen to maintain power and control and economic wealth.
0:48:41.0 CW: And the strategic use of de-escalation for some and escalation for others.
0:48:45.6 AH: Right?
0:48:47.7 CW: Yeah. Yeah. So as we think about all of these layers, you and your family are grappling with the loss of a loved one, the embrace of the community, the spotlight and some of the unwelcome attention. And then there is the legal process around what will happen to those who participated in Perry's murder and particularly the Chauvin trial.
0:49:26.3 AH: Yes.
0:49:27.4 CW: So I wonder if you can talk us through your experience with that, how the family was navigating that and all under a spotlight. And you mentioned Trayvon Martin, so it's clear that you had this idea of, is the system going to work for us?
0:49:48.6 AH: Yeah. The gatekeeper... Well...
0:49:53.3 CW: Walk us through that. Walk us through that.
0:49:56.4 AH: The legal part was extremely difficult because you have about 30 or 40, 50 sometimes people in your face, wanting to know what you think, how you feeling. And you basically, you're trying to just get through the day. And you don't know what's going to happen. And I remember the first day that I went, maybe not the pre-hearing, the first day of the trial when I went there I was surrounded with media. And I said, okay, this is gonna be okay. When my first day that I went in there, the first person that I saw was Derek Chauvin. 'Cause we had to do like three security checks. It was like [0:50:41.7] ____ wire. It looked like a prison. The federal building courthouse looked like a prison because it was so tight. And he was behind me so many feet that I didn't even know it.
0:50:56.3 AH: And so when I... Something told me to turn around and we locked eyes at one another. And I'm like, "Oh my God, that's him." And I recognized him because I remember the eyes, I remember the eyes. And even I got in the courtroom and I saw him where he was sitting and it was him. So going through that process, there was a lot of worry because we was getting death threats. So we tried to stay tight. We tried to just talk to each other a lot. Some were scared, some family members were scared to be out. Some did not wanna do any activism work, especially the elderly ones. They didn't wanna do any. His brothers maintained as much as they can. It was just through the grace of God, that we got through it, how we navigated. We had a wonderful team attorneys that work with us.
0:51:56.3 AH: Our faith and we just stayed close as much as we could. We just stayed close and that's all you can do. We had to go through the system and that day the verdict, the gatekeeper said she was never worried about the verdict. She said she knew the verdict was always going to be guilty. And we in there like hoping and I remember they said they have a verdict. We got two hours to get to the place for the verdict. And they wouldn't tell us the location where we had to be because they didn't want the family in the courthouse. We had to meet at another location. So we met there and all us was in there and I'm like, oh, well Lord, here we go.
0:52:51.9 AH: But when it came back guilty, guilty, guilty I just think I just, they thought I had fainted, but I didn't. I just kinda like just dropped, it was like something hit me like, my gosh. And I heard the whole family in there. There was like a roar, but it wasn't like a roar like mocking anyone. And that's very important and I say that because it wasn't about mocking Mr. Chauvin, it was about, My God, someone is going to be held accountable. And then I thought about that thing and I talked to the gatekeeper about this. I said, you know what, the 12 jurors, yeah, they convicted him, but the truth is the world convicted him. When I think about and look back on it, everything was in the right place for that conviction. Darnella Frazier, that 17 year old girl who I'm internally grateful that videoed it, because when she videoed that tape, little did they know, there was a news report that got put on by the police safety officer that George Floyd died of medical causes when he was arrested by the police. That's what they said.
0:54:23.4 CW: That was gonna be the narrative.
0:54:24.6 AH: Yeah, they already had told the story until Darnella Frazier. So you had Darnella Frazier. You had all those people there witness it, the firefighter, the old man. I forgot his name. There were so many. The EMT was there, there were so many witnesses that was there. Charlie Mack, Charlie Mack were there. He was there. People in the top floor of the building yelling. And most of all, you had the world watching, watching because of COVID. And even though COVID was a bad thing, it was to our advantage that day because people were forced to watch something they didn't wanna watch, but they watched it second by second and minute by minute. So I always tell people, the world convicted Derek Chauvin. The juries did a wonderful job. The paperwork just needed to catch up, and that's what they did.
0:55:35.3 CW: During the sentencing, you had an opportunity to write a victim impact statement?
0:55:43.8 AH: Mm-hmm.
0:55:45.0 CW: And I wonder if you can talk about that process of how you try to influence the rest of what will happen.
0:56:01.7 AH: Well, I had gotten off work. The attorney called, said, "Are you gonna do the impact statement?" And I was going back and forth with it. So I got off work about 11:30. I stayed up to like one or two o'clock in the morning writing and pondering what to say. It wasn't difficult to write, but it just took, it was like, it made me re-trigger a lot of the emotions because I wanted that judge to know how important it is. I wanted the judge to know, we need to get this right.
0:56:45.4 AH: We need to get this one right, because this one is so important. And I wanted him to know that Perry was a human being, because yes, they said he did drugs and the family, we never said George Floyd was perfect. We never said that. We never said he never went to prison. We never said he never did drugs. In every interview I have done, I've always tried to be transparent that way. And I wanted to be transparent in a way, because nobody is perfect. He was a human being. And I wanted him also, the judge to know how important this movement was for the community. And I wanted the judge to know that this is a change because this is bigger than the family. It was bigger than the community. This was big. This was a world movement and that we need to send a message of accountability now. And that was the purpose of me writing that impact statement.
0:57:58.4 CW: So tell me about healing.
0:58:04.6 AH: Healing.
0:58:05.8 CW: And to the degree that you think it's possible.
0:58:12.6 AH: Yes.
0:58:14.0 CW: To the degree that you've experienced it and are experiencing it, and what it is that has moved you along a journey of healing.
0:58:28.5 AH: No, it's been almost three years. In the beginning, it was devastating. The community really helped me out a lot. I mean, they held my hand. I gotta give it to George 38 in Chicago and gatekeeper. I mean, they held my hand and I love those guys. Being out there, working with them, it made me feel like I had a greater purpose in life. That I had something that God wanted me to do all alone. And that's what I did. And now, since it's almost three years, I'm at a better place. I'm on the road towards healing. And the people around the world, Lord knows, there were so many people. They were like from so many different countries, Japan, China, Israel, Switzerland, Germany, Africa. It was so beautiful to see them come together and stand in solidarity. The Netherlands, Sweden. Oh my goodness. That outpour of love was something that I don't think I ever would've seen in my lifetime, that was healing to me.
1:00:00.9 AH: Love is healing. And in order to get through some type of, to get through this pain, what I experience and my faith with God is love for one another. You can't heal with hate. I mean, I can hate Derek Chauvin, all day, say he the worst this and all this, but what good does that do? I know what he did was horrendous, was wrong. Lord knows I don't... His mind was in a place that I do not understand. But people ask me, Do I hate Mr. Chauvin? I said, "No, I don't hate that man." I honestly don't, because I know I don't want that hate to be... I mean, I don't wanna be a prisoner of his hate. I don't want my mind to be renting space of thinking about him in hate. I'm better than that. We all are better than that. The community deserves better than that. The world deserves better than that. I hope that he himself can find a place of healing on his journey. I really do. Because like I said, it's not about mockery. It's not about making fun of someone because he is a human being.
1:01:29.1 CW: And it's very interesting to me that I've heard you call him Mr. Chauvin.
1:01:36.7 AH: I was raised up down south and sometimes you're raised up down south to give respect to people who don't deserve respect. That's how I was raised. And that's something naturally for me to do. I wouldn't call him a name. You would never hear me say that bastard. I would never say that because I'm better than that.
1:02:01.6 CW: You still give him human respect.
1:02:03.4 AH: Yes, I do. The only thing that I wished is that he would've looked at my nephew as a human being because my nephew looked at him as one. And the reason why I say that is because when you look at someone and you're desperate, you don't ask a monster for help. There's a chance that they're human. That there's a chance that humanistic inside of them, that they will respond and say, "I help you." That's why my nephew kept saying to Mr. Chauvin, "I can't breathe." And their response, "Well, you're talking, you must be breathing." Mocking. And so it was his way of that hope, that 1% chance that that humanistic was in him. 'Cause you don't ask the monster for help, you ask someone you think by chance as a humanistic need, they will help you.
1:03:15.2 CW: We have a number of students in the audience.
1:03:22.8 AH: Yes. Yay.
1:03:24.3 CW: And we also have faculty and staff and...
1:03:29.7 AH: Wonderful.
1:03:29.7 CW: Members of the community. And we come together seeking, I think all a better world and trying to figure out how we can be of service. What is the best strategy, what's the best way to utilize our time and our gifts. And I wonder if you can talk about, as you've gone on this journey, what advice you can give. Because you talked about kind of not necessarily seeing yourself as an activist...
1:04:07.6 AH: No, I do not.
1:04:10.6 CW: And not seeing yourself as one who could be this influential and shape our thinking and our conversation. And yet here you are. So I wonder, what have you learned from your journey into activism?
1:04:29.0 AH: What I learned is that you're gonna be... You have to be able to tap into the unyielding courage that we all have. It's there. It is there. You just have to be able to tap into it and believe in it and be passionate about it. You have to be able to have that uncomfortable conversations. And whether you're White or Black, no matter race you are. And I do meet, if you are a White person and you wanna fight for racial justice, I meet a lot of White people that say, "I wanna do something, but I feel uncomfortable. I'm gonna say the wrong thing. I wanna make sure that I'm careful."
1:05:22.1 AH: You don't need to do that, I don't think you need to do that. You just you need to be yourself. If you are uncomfortable, it's because you've been comfortable too long. I'm gonna say that again. If you are uncomfortable, it's because you've been comfortable too long. So it's okay that you are uncomfortable. You just have to get out there and just do it, and just know what you're fighting for is worth it, it's for their future generation. Will you get people that's gonna be against you? Yes. And just know as White activists, we love when the White people stand up beside us, and say Black Lives Matter and all that. But here's the catcher, Can you do that when the Black people are not around? When we're not sitting at your dinner table, that's when we need you to stand by us.
1:06:20.7 AH: Because when you do that, what's happening? We're standing together, we're standing together because we are all gonna experience it. It's not just gonna be about race. It could be about someone, or sexual orientation, it could be about someone weight. It could be about someone's sex, male and female. There is gonna be racism, biases, implicit biases. But you have to be able to use your voice and that's what's important. And if you're afraid to use your voice and you wanna do it, and you need help, get someone to help you, because I tell you that because those three officers wished they would have used their voice. They became paralyzed. They didn't do it because they fell into this pattern. Well, that's the supervisor. He's over us, let him do it. But you know it's wrong? You got someone dying in front of you, you are first responders. They were all certified CPR...
1:07:29.7 CW: Oh my gosh, wow.
1:07:34.6 AH: Minnesota police officers are certified CPR, but they were paralyzed by somebody else power and fear. And there's a lot of people that way, loosing their own jobs, that people go along with stuff, but that's them, they got in trouble. And you know, the boss was wrong. Why didn't you say anything? Why was it important for you not to say anything? 'Cause you wanna keep your job? You gotta touch into that. That's what I'm saying, this work is fearless but be prepared to lose some things. You may lose your job for standing up for somebody, but guess what? What you don't realize you harvest something that you're gonna reap that's gonna be bigger because that day is coming.
1:08:28.3 CW: There are so many themes in the book, courage being one of them, which you just spoke to. The other theme is spirituality and faith. And I wonder if you can talk about that as part of your reservoir that you lean into. I wonder if you can talk about that and that thread that shows up in your family story as well, in terms of the faith.
1:09:02.1 AH: Well, I came from a very, a praying family, especially my grandmother. She went to church every Sunday, and I never really got... I heard stories about her and I never got a chance to meet her. But my mother told her so much and it passed through my mom. And here's the thing about it, when people are going, when you are the press group and back in those times, 'cause my mother was born in 1925, so she was really born back in those times. Sometimes all you have is your faith, you really do. You don't really have much options or anything else and so that becomes something that you believe in and you believe so strongly in it that God allows you to take you through it, you don't think about it not happening, you just do it.
1:09:56.6 AH: And I think that faith and the belief was something always been in me because it was passed down. My great grandpa, Hillery, got his free papers at eight years old. And he accumulated 500 acres of land and he was excited about it, turned around and lost them. But guess what? He never lost faith. My mother and parents, they weren't educated at all. All my mother wanted for her kids was to have a high school diploma because that's all she could see. She couldn't see college for me, but she wanted something big for me and big for me with a high school diploma. But her faith and her determination that she instilled in me made me see something bigger, and I ended up going to college, you see what I'm saying? And doing things, so it's very important, very important.
1:11:00.4 CW: I wanna close with some of the questions from our students who are so inspiring and I know are very inspired by you. And one of the things that someone has asked about is the writing of the book. Because it's allowed you to continue this very very important conversation. And I wonder if you can talk about... This person wants to know, What were the best and most challenging parts of writing this book?
1:11:43.7 AH: The beginning was when I... When the beginning of like, okay, because I had so much chaos in my head, so many things I wanted to say, how am I gonna put this in the story? 'Cause I wanted to be raw. And what I was trying to do is that I wanted the best that I knew how to show how racism involved in the family and all the way through up to Perry is killed. I wanted to show the best way I could about systemic racism. And so getting started was always the difficult, it wasn't hard, it was a struggle. But once I got going, I got going and then I think I stumbled on the trial, the trial part. Not knowing what's gonna happen because I didn't wanna write ahead of time what I was gonna feel that was gonna happen.
1:12:47.2 AH: And so I kind of paused on that. But then I picked back up and something just took off and I just went and I didn't stop. I just kept writing. So I thought I had writer's block about a couple times in the beginning. Then I paused and I just kept going. It's your faith. But here's the thing is I tell people, I dealt with so many emotions. There was time that they... Don't get me wrong, there was times I got mad. I said, I can't write anymore. I'm tired. Or sometime I just start crying. When I think about Perry, then I get frustrated. I get angry all over again. But it was love that took me to the finish line.
1:13:32.2 CW: Absolutely.
1:13:38.7 CW: How do we build a movement that is sustainable?
1:13:48.1 AH: [laughter] That's sustainable? You Know what...
1:13:50.1 CW: When the cameras have gone home, how do you build a movement that's sustainable?
1:13:57.4 AH: They have a lot of things in place now. They just got to keep making modifications and improvements and you can't stop talking about it and you can't let it go and you can't let it just die down. Yeah, there are gonna be some moments where you don't hear anything, but just because you don't hear something is going on don't mean that you can't plan and improve better ways of doing something. There's always something to do.
1:14:29.3 CW: Or that the work isn't happening. Sometimes it happens in a quiet way very deliberately.
1:14:34.9 AH: Right.
1:14:35.2 CW: Yeah.
1:14:35.2 AH: And sometimes you don't need all the action and protest and stuff happening. Sometimes people can be in the movement behind the desk planning. I tell people, if you can sing, sing for justice, if you can cook, cook for justice. If you can do artwork, be an artist for justice. You don't have to be in the street for justice. There are so many ways. There are people right now that are doing incredible artwork for the justice. The movement have changed a lot of people careers. It has given people careers. Graffiti artists have really, there have been some graffiti artists have really have made a name for themselves through this work. And it's just incredible to see. So yeah, that's to me, I think is just keep it going.
1:15:29.8 CW: I wonder if you can talk about self-care in the movement and in movement work. You shared a little bit about your own process around surrounding yourself with love and feeling that enrichment. What else have you seen? What else have you observed? Where do we need to do better as it relates to supporting people who are active in racial justice work?
1:16:02.9 AH: I think that if I was an employer and you know that you have people in all type of work, if they call in sick and say, "I'm burned out. I need some time out." Give it to them, because they really are needing that time because it can wear you out. It's some of the most hardest work I have ever done in my life. But it is the most rewarding work also. So I think that there should be mental health available, not just for people in social movement. There should always be, and I think some employees have that now where they have people that you can go in and talk to. But what I find out, they don't have it. People aren't doing it. It's not encouraged. Or they feel, I'm gonna work eight hours a day and go home and maybe one day I'll making an appointment to see somebody. But the problem is it's not encouraged. They just want you to work and if a problem show up, you just deal with it. These problems can be very serious.
1:17:18.8 CW: Exhausting to think about.
1:17:19.9 AH: Exhausting. We're not just in social justice, there's workplace violence. There's arguments that you have with your coworkers. There's disagreement, and there need to be a safe place where they can talk to someone, where they can do self discovery, whether it should be healing time out for yourself, instead of look down on.
1:17:45.9 CW: As not being strong enough...
1:17:47.1 AH: As not being strong enough.
1:17:48.6 CW: Or committed enough or.
1:17:49.1 AH: Right. Because what you're doing when you don't have the support, when that happens, you're creating a hostile environment. You don't even know, they don't even know they're creating a hostile, I should say, a hostile or unpleasant environment for that person who's going through a difficult time. Yeah.
1:18:07.2 CW: So my last question for you, because we want to give people an opportunity to check out the book, and I highly recommend this 'cause I think we just scratched the surface in this conversation of all of the richness in this book, but we have this conversation on the heels of Martin Luther King day and Martin Luther King Week, and arguably it should be Martin Luther king year and lifetime, to think about these issues. And King famously asked, Where do we go from here? How would you answer that monumental question.
1:18:50.1 AH: It's a monumental question. I'm gonna put to you like this... And I hope it answers the question. When I think about everything that happened after my nephew's death, there's two words that came to me and someone mentioned to me, and I've taken up those two words, unfortunate gift. Unfortunate because I lost the family, my niece lost a father, the community lost a member, but the gift is that Perry left a gift to use your voice. He left that gift for each and every one of you to use your voice, to speak out when you see injustice. And so my monumental lesson, if y'all may call it that is, I'm gonna say it and say it over again. You've got to have the courage to speak out when you see something that is not okay.
1:20:02.5 CW: The book is called Lift Your Voice.
1:20:07.4 AH: Your voice.
1:20:08.6 CW: How My Nephew, George Floyd's Murder Changed The World. The force is named Angela Harrelson, and it has been an honor and a gift to be in conversation with you. And I am so sorry that we are in conversation over such horror and trauma and violence and white supremacy and racism. And I just hope and pray that out of that comes the beauty of our voices.
1:20:45.7 AH: Yes.
1:20:46.2 CW: Of our conversation, of our activism, of our love for each other, of our support for each other as fellow human beings.
1:20:52.8 AH: Yes.
1:20:52.8 CW: So may that come out.
1:20:55.4 AH: Yes.
1:20:55.7 CW: Of this trauma. Thank you so, so much.
1:20:58.5 AH: Thank you. And thank all of you.
1:21:00.7 AH: Thank you. Thank all of you so much, y'all are beautiful people. Thank you.
1:21:14.9 CW: So we have a reception outside. For those joining us virtually, please pick up the book, and we also wanna share that Songs for Democracy will be tomorrow...
1:21:30.2 Speaker 3: At 7:30.
1:21:31.1 CW: 7:30.
1:21:31.2 Speaker 3: [1:21:29.7] ____ Hill Auditorium.
1:21:31.2 CW: Hill Auditorium, 7:30. It is another event for democracy and debate, for Martin Luther King weekend. It is our next time to gather together, please join us for that and in the immediate, please join us for this reception right outside. Thanks so much.
1:21:52.2 AH: Thank You. Thank all of you.