By Kassidy Arena, Iowa Public Radio
The one year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer brought a mixture of emotions for people gathered at a memorial held in downtown Des Moines.
Rev. Rob Johnson, the director of No Justice No Peace, helped host the memorial and opened the event.
“We want to make sure that we commemorate this moment, that on this day one year ago, something in the middle of COVID, in the middle of a pandemic happened to our community. It may have happened three and a half hours up the road. But it still happened here as well,” Johnson said before handing the microphone off to emcee Al Womble, chair of the Iowa Democratic Black Caucus.
Womble introduced speaker and attorney Ben Lynch, who touched on how people can protect themselves in encounters with the police.
Connie Ryan, executive director of Interfaith Alliance, discussed how Floyd’s legacy has instilled calls for racial justice across the world.
And there were other speakers who hit on a more somber note, like West Des Moines Councilwoman Renee Hardman. Hardman is the first Black councilwoman for the city. She said people need to continue working for a better future in honor of Floyd.
“His death, ladies and gentlemen and friends, was not in vain. What this man has awakened, and what he’s accomplished in his death, is more than one can ever imagine. And it’s up to each of us on what piece of his legacy that we will carry on,” Hardman told the crowd.
She continued: “We, as an individual collective, owe it to Mr. George Floyd to walk because he could not get up, to stand because he could not stand up and to breathe the air that we breathe.”
Hardman also alluded to recent legislation that would ban diversity training in government and schools, saying people need to examine their internal biases to address systemic racism.
Floyd’s memorial serves as a reminder to continue fighting for racial justice, according to Norwalk high school student Josie Mulvihill.
The 18-year-old Black student called upon her school district to address what she sees as discriminatory practices. She said she wants to be a teacher herself to make sure such things don’t happen to other students.
“It is so important that you listen to the youth in your area. Because often they are crying out and they’re saying these things are happening. And nobody’s listening,” Mulvihill said. “Everybody likes to say we are the future. I feel like we should give more credit to the future.”
Johnson introduced his young nephew at the memorial to show the crowd a face to go along with Mulvihill’s description of “the future.”
“We got to do something. Because that’s why we’re here. We’re not here because we want folks to feel good, cry a little bit and then go home. That’s not why we’re here. We’re here because I don’t want a knee on my neck. We’re here because we don’t want to knee on our neck. And I for sure don’t want to knee on [my nephew’s] neck,” Johnson said.
The memorial ended with a prayer for a better future by Democratic State Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad of Des Moines.