ODI and CAB host Floyd family discussion

By Samira Kassem Sep 18, 2020

Sewlyn Jones, the uncle of George Floyd, told stories about when George was a kid.  

Photo: Samira Kassem

By: Samira Kassem Managing Editor and Katie Fata News Editor

The Campus Activities Board (CAB) and Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) teamed up Thursday September 17 to host family members of George Floyd for a moderated discussion. 

Floyd’s murder at the hands of the police took place in May 2020 and triggered protests against police bruitalty and racism across the country.

Students received an email from Dean of Students Karla Carney-Hall asserting that Black Lives Matter and inviting students to attend the seminar via Zoom. 

The event was virtually attended by nearly 200 students and moderated by activist and minister Nyle Fort.

Opening statements were led by Director of ODI Hannah Mesouani who expressed her gratitude to the panelists for sharing their stories. Next to speak was President of Illinois Wesleyan’s Black Student Union, junior Kaleb Carter. Carter delivered a brief speech and then requested a moment of silence for all victims of police brutality and anti-Black bigotry in our country. Fort then opened the panel discussion with an analogy. 

“Think of this conversation as putting food for thought on the table, just like a buffet you don’t even have to eat all the food. Despite our different tastes and backgrounds, let’s at least sit at the table together,” Fort said.

Panelists began with a conversation about the intersection of racism and the current COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We are witnessing the largest protests in American history amidst the deadliest pandemic in well over a century. Numbers don’t tell the names, these are really precious people. The gravity of the moment can never be told by the death toll. Black Americans are three times more likely to catch COVID and ten times more likely to die of it according to the CDC,” Fort said.

The virtual event on September 17 featured family members of George Floyd, who was murdered by police this past May. 

Photo: Illinois Wesleyan Campus Activities Board

The honored guests of the event, however, were Sewlyn Jones and Angela Herrelson, aunt and uncle to George Floyd, who they referred to by his nickname ‘Perry.’ The pair of siblings began with how they felt the day Floyd’s murder took place. Herrelson said she first heard about it when she received a phone call from a media platform asking for her input on the event. 

“At first I thought maybe they have the wrong family,” Herrelson said. 

She then went on to describe looking at her phone and realizing that they did not.  

“When he called out in the video ‘ I can’t breathe…mama, mama,’ I thought ‘Perry Perry’ and I dropped to the floor,” Herrelson said. 

Jones then began to tell stories of his nephew when he was a child and described grieving his loss. 

“I don’t want to see another Black man, white man, grey man be put in a situation that my nephew was in. I haven’t been the same since” Jones said. 

Fort and Jones went on to discuss why they have chosen to gather for public events and discuss Floyd’s murder.  

“We aren’t here because he lived a saint-ful life, we are here because of how he passed and the significance of that” Jones said.

“Our options as Black men should not have to be you have to be Barack Obama or some kind of monster, those in the middle deserve protection too” Fort said. 

All of the panelists urged attendees to remember Floyd, not as a Black man who was murdered, but as the precious human being that he was. 

The discussion of the panelists was closed with questions from attendees which focused on what they should do and how they should respond to the injustice taking place in our country. 

“Don’t be silent,” Jones said. 

“Everyone wants to remember Martin Luther King’s dream, but they do not want to remember the nightmare that came first. We must all acknowledge the nightmare before we can have the dream” Fort said. 

The discussion of Dr. Martin Luther King came after the University faced backlash for it’s responses to both Black Lives Matter and the death of Floyd. An email was sent after Floyd’s death to the campus community that urged students to work towards anti-racism but was not well received by students. The email quoted Dr. King, and referenced his visits to the University in the 1960s but did not mention Black Lives Matter and referenced Floyd only once at the beginning of the email. 

Since returning to campus, students have hosted a number of events, including Thursday’s Floyd discussion, to shed light on how Titans can come together to fight against the injustices they’re seeing. Spaces have been created by students for Black indigenous people of color (BIPOC) students to share their experiences, such as a recently created Instagram account, @blackatiwu. The account allows for students, alums and faculty to share their stories anonymously. 

CAB concluded the event by encouraging students to read, listen, know when to speak up, be loud and to be unapologetic. 

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