George Floyd Square: 'Beauty for Ashes'

Even though Derek Chauvin was convicted on all three counts, George Floyd Square in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is still a heartbreaking place.

A tall man wearing a black hat walked out of the greenhouse at George Floyd Square and offered us a surprising piece of advice.

I’m not sure if I’m ready to take it.

Just feet away from the fateful spot in front of Cup Foods where former police officer and convicted murderer Derek Chavin knelt on Floyd’s neck, the man at the greenhouse first told us about the vegetables growing inside, while Frankincense and Myrrh wafted in the air. If the scent was good enough for Jesus, it was good enough for him, he said.

Love and sadness emanate from the square. It’s mixed in with the marigolds, teddy bears, candles and iconic images of the victims of police violence: Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Ahmad Arbery and Daunte Wright. It’s at the nearby ‘Say Their Names’ memorial for those killed by police.

I stood there at George Floyd Square with my husband, sister and brother-in-law. We walked along Chicago Avenue to the corner of E. 38th St. and looked at the displays in silence.

As we stood near Cup Foods’ infamous burgundy awning, I watched people go inside and wondered how they could ever cross the store’s threshold — the very store that employed the cashier who called the police on Floyd for a $20 counterfeit bill.

But I know at the root of this tragic saga is not a counterfeit $20 bill nor even Cup Foods — it’s white supremacy. It’s structural racism. It’s racially biased policing. It’s Americans’ irrational fears and longstanding hatred of Black men in particular and of people of color — a contemptible societal ill that must be vanquished.

I stood within feet of where Chauvin murdered Floyd. Sadness, grief and rage formed a lump in my throat. I didn’t cry outwardly, but my spirit felt disturbed, yet subdued in that space.

Earlier this week I drove past the spot in Falcon Heights where a police officer unjustly shot Castile to death as he rode with his girlfriend and her 4-year old. I visited the memorial at 63rd Ave. N. and Kathrene Drive in Brooklyn Center, where a cop cut 20-year old Daunte Wright’s life short. And now his 1-year old baby — his little namesake — will grow up without a father.

Leaving the Floyd memorial, the stranger in the black hat thanked us for coming and said it is all “beauty for ashes.” But, I can’t see it yet.

“. . . and provide for those who grieve in Zion - to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” — Isaiah 61:3

I wanted to ask the man who spoke to us so profoundly for his name, but I just stood there. He asked us to “close our eyes and leave the pain there.” My husband bowed his head slightly and closed his eyes. I tried. The man talked about the resilience of the enslaved people and their descendants and called the pain we all felt in that moment “generational trauma.”

“Leave the pain here,” he said, standing in front of Cup Foods.

I hope I can, brother. I hope I can.

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