What does it mean to remember George Floyd?

By: Joe Munnich, Managing Director, Generation Next

As we witnessed the formal remembrances of George Floyd, I reflected on what it means to remember him. He was a black father, a few years older than me, a white father, living a few miles from where he was killed by a white police officer. On a basic level, remembering means recognizing his humanity: George Floyd lived and he mattered.

Remembering also means connecting the dots and seeing the patterns. In 1990, Tycel Nelson was fatally shot in the back by a white police officer. He was a black teenager, a few years older than me, a white teenager growing up a few miles away. Remembering means recognizing that for 30 years (an entire generation), I’ve been witness to history repeating itself—because the systems haven’t changed. Institutional racism is built into our systems: policing, housing, health, and the one that undergirds them: education. Remembering means searching out these patterns and digging in to discover root causes—and uprooting them.

As a coalition of education leaders focused on systems change, Generation Next has dug deep into the factors that drive our community’s racial disparities. Early in life, we already see that systems have not been designed for our children of color and American Indian children to succeed, with disparate rates of early screening and the opportunities, resources, and connections that should follow. Innovative cross-sector partnerships have made promising progress, but lasting community-level impact requires transformation at a systems level.

As we continue to remember the lives and deaths of George Floyd, Tycel Nelson, and the many other black and brown people hurt and killed by police brutality before and between, we also need to make a long-term commitment to systems change well beyond the policing and prison system. We know we can change these patterns, because we are the ones who recreate them every day. Each morning, we wake up to the choice of reinforcing fundamentally flawed systems or rebuilding them. The solutions will come from community, but systems leaders need to make the change. We have to remember that and act on it—not only for a week or a month, but for generations to come.