Jeanelle Austin is Executive Director of the George Floyd Global Memorial; it’s her job to maintain the space and preserve over 3000 offerings at the square.
Safiya Mohamed reports:
Jeanelle Austin began caretaking for George Floyd’s memorial last summer. She grew up three blocks away from 38th and Chicago, where George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. In the days following his death, people flocked to the site to grieve, process, and protest.
“Every morning I would get up and I would do something [as] mundane as picking up garbage,” said Austin. “But I knew that it would keep the memorial presentable.”
Austin’s background is in racial justice work and activism. This past September she was named Executive Director of the George Floyd Global Memorial. Through her job, she works to maintain the space and preserve over 3000 offerings at the square.
“It really was about just putting in the work to build out this story – preservation as protest – to ensure that the voices of the people are held, are kept, are known,” she explained.
Austin says that everything left at the square is an offering, therefore nothing is thrown away.
“We genuinely believe that it’s a sacred site,” she said. “And when someone lays down something as sacred, at a sacred site, it becomes a sacred offering. You just don’t throw away the sacred. It comes from a deep spiritual, moral and ethical belief.”
For months, George Floyd Square was closed to traffic, but the city eventually insisted it reopen to cars and buses.
Austin hopes the square will one day become a pedestrian only intersection.
“It’s the memorial that the people built,” she said. “It’s the memorial, it’s not a makeshift memorial. It’s not a temporary Memorial. It’s not a placeholder until a statue can be built. It’s the people’s Memorial and it is our working job to honor that and uphold that.”
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