Thank You, Mr. Floyd

 by Valerie Merritt

At the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, we have a weekly Thursday tradition called #ThankYouThursday, which involves sending out at least five thank you messages to show gratitude. Yet, the past few weeks have been difficult to focus on who to send my thank you’s to—not because I’m ungrateful but because I’ve been so emotionally distracted and emotionally-charged due to all the civil unrest and ongoing pandemic concerns.

After taking a minute to sit still in my own thoughts, however, I realized that I do have a special thank you message to share. It’s not to a colleague, friend, or even a family member. As a matter of fact, my thank you note is being sent to someone I don't even know. His name is George Floyd. 

George Floyd is someone I may have never come in contact with because we live two worlds apart, but to whom I owe so much gratitude. Although our lives may have been different, we have one thing in common—the color of our skin.

On May 25, 2020 you came in contact with four egregious Minneapolis police officers who took your life away because of some very small infraction. Oh, but unbeknownst to those four cops and the rest of the world, you would go on to leave such an indelible mark by saying these three very simple words “I can’t breathe." 

Because of your last words Mr. Floyd, you forced the country to take a collective deep breath, and cry out, “enough is enough”! You breathed life into me and our country. I am so grateful to you because you helped spark conversations about race and freedoms that so many are afraid to utter. 

I often wonder what would have happened if you would have chosen a different path on that dreadful day—if you had made a left instead of a right; or if you had chosen a different store to go into. Would we be having endless conversations about racist cops or unfair police practices? Would we, yes Black folk, think twice about our own use of the “N” word and asking ourselves does our vote really count. Would white people really care if they knew that it’s not ok to say, “but you’re different”, while in a board meeting; or ask “can I touch your hair in the middle of the hallway at work? Or the not-so-funny jokes they say amongst themselves about Black people.  

Even better, would we really take notice of the disparity of how unfairly Black people are treated? Not just by police, but by CEOs, judges, doctors, lawyers, even the cashier at the grocery store who refuses to put your change in your hand versus putting it on the counter to avoid touching you. Not to mention the inept politicians, racist social media trolls and brazen “Karens”! 

Your impact has been felt even in the most unexpected ways. For example, the decision of cities like Minneapolis and Los Angeles to redirect funding from police departments to social services and community-based organizations has been long-time coming.

And here’s one to make you chuckle, how about after 18 seasons producers of the longtime popular show “The Bachelor” finally decided to feature an African-American man as a love interest, as if our Black men don’t deserve love too. I bet no one saw that coming—all because of you Mr. Floyd.

I can go on and on because I have so much to thank you for, though I know I will never get to express my gratitude to you directly. And so, I will take solace in believing that your life was ordained before either one of us could take our first breath. I’m just so sorry that your last breath had to end in so much pain.

Rev. Al Sharpton said it best, “God took the rejected stone and made him the cornerstone of a movement that’s going to change the whole wide world”. So thank you Mr. Floyd for standing in the gap for so many other Black men just like you. Thank you for forcing the world to see that no matter who we are or what we’ve done in our past, our Black lives still matter. Thank you for being the rejected stone! 

And finally Mr. Floyd, thank you for letting your beautiful little Black daughter see that you have indeed changed the world.

Valerie Merritt is Chief of Staff to the CEO at the Campaign for Black Male Achievement