After George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, the site where it happened – the intersection of 38th Street East and Chicago Avenue South – became a community focal point. People from all over came together to pay their respects, mourn and imagine a better world. Protest signs, flowers and art kept amassing – until people started taking them from the memorial.

This is where Jeanelle Austin – now the executive director of the George Floyd Global Memorial – and other community members stepped in. They reclaimed offerings that got thrown away and created standards and rules for the daily caretaking of the site now known as George Floyd Square. But even then, the scale of the memorial was still becoming too much. So they reached out to George Floyd’s family to see what they’d like done with it.

The answer that they came to was to establish a new organization, called the George Floyd Global Memorial. In addition to the preservation and conservation of the more than 5,000 offerings left at the intersection, the organization works to connect people to their significance through guided pilgrimages and public installations. On this episode of the Off the Charts podcast, Jeanelle and Methodist Hospital president Jennifer Myster join us to discuss the process of this work and how the hospital came to host an exhibit. Listen to the episode or read the transcript.

By the people, for the people

Since George Floyd Square was a public installation created by the community, George Floyd Global Memorial wanted its work to be an extension of that dynamic and spirit. They allowed local organizations to bid on hosting an exhibit, with the only requirement being that the space be freely accessible to the public. HealthPartners won the bid and selected Methodist Hospital as the venue.

To keep the spirit of community in the process, volunteers from Methodist Hospital collaborated with Angela Harrelson, George Floyd’s aunt, to decide on the pieces that would be displayed and how they’d be displayed. The exhibit, titled “I Am Not You. You Are Not Me. Healing Begins with Acceptance.” ran from January to March 2023 and included more than 100 offerings and art pieces from George Floyd Square. Jeanelle and Jennifer saw it as a productive, subversive form of disruption: people were drawn into the space, into reflection and into conversation.

Looking back to move forward

Jeanelle makes the point that we can’t look at Black wellness in the United States in a vacuum – the discrimination Black people experience in the U.S. is systemic and historical. Therefore, Jeanelle argues, we have to understand the past in order to make progress in the present.

In the case of health equity, that means understanding the factors that have historically informed Black health and the relationship that Black people have with health care. We can’t assess Black health without accounting for the fact that Black slaves were mainly fed food scraps and animal intestines. We can’t undo the distrust that some Black people have for care systems without understanding the history of unethical medical experimentation that Black people have been subjected to.

The same goes for George Floyd, and for police violence towards Black people in general. We have to understand that George Floyd and other victims of police violence are contemporary examples of lynching, so much so that Jeanelle advocates for using that word specifically. It refers to the public, symbolic meaning of the violence: if you are Black in America, this is what can happen to you.

But George Floyd also demonstrates the ways we have to work against history. Where lynchings were once used to control people through fear, the murder of George Floyd inspired anger, revolt and an outpouring of love. People across the globe responded by protesting the system that enabled his death, and people closer to home also responded by building community. Even now, George Floyd Global Memorial sustains those energies and encourages people to reflect on the significance and impact of his death.

This work cannot take place only in reaction to extreme examples of discrimination – it must extend proactively to every form that discrimination takes, in every system where it’s enabled. It’s a lot, and it can be uncomfortable, but it’s how we grow towards something better. To hear more from Jeanelle and Jennifer about collaboration, community and what hosting the George Floyd Global Memorial Art Exhibit has meant for Methodist Hospital, listen to this episode of Off the Charts.