George Floyd’s bright-eyed daughter, 6-year-old Gianna, couldn’t have been more prophetic when she gleefully beamed on Instagram, “Daddy changed the world,” following her father’s agonizing death on May 25 in Minneapolis.
On the day the world bid farewell to Floyd at a private funeral in Houston, the theme of change was omnipresent. Floyd quickly became a global example of racial injustice after his death was caught on now-viral video, as he begged for breath and life while a police officer pressed a knee on his neck. His name was soon a ubiquitous chant in subsequent rallies and protests across the world.
At the nearly four-hour service at the Fountain of Praise Church on June 9, Floyd was remembered not just as a symbol of change, but as a son of Houston — a star athlete who excelled at basketball and football at Houston’s Jack Yates High School.
He was “Big Floyd” to his friends in the Third Ward neighborhood, beloved for his easygoing nature, humor, and humility. To his family he was “Perry,” a “gentle giant,” and, fittingly for a man of his six-foot-five stature, “Superman.”
This was the man known to many of the nearly 2,500 who attended the private service (other memorials took place in Minneapolis and Floyd’s birthplace of North Carolina). Originally planned for only 500 guests, the Fountain of Praise church was suddenly at capacity with those wishing to pay homage to Floyd; dozens more were turned away at the door after a directive from a fire marshal. The church handed out programs to those who weren’t allowed in, as a consolation gift.
Floyd’s extended family — numbering nearly 100 and wearing white – led the procession as they each walked by Floyd’s gold casket. Also in the crowd were local, state, and national elected officials and celebrities including Jamie Foxx, Channing Tatum, and J.J. Watt. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who was in Houston to meet with the Floyd family on June 8, offered a video greeting. The fiery Rev. Al Sharpton, who delivered a blistering sermon in Minneapolis last week, delivered the eulogy.
“God took an ordinary brother from the Third Ward, from the housing projects, that nobody thought much about but those that knew him and loved him,” Sharpton explained. “He took the rejected stone, the stone that the builder rejected. They rejected him for jobs. They rejected him for positions. They rejected him to play for certain teams.
“God took the rejected stone and made him the cornerstone of a movement that’s going to change the whole wide world.” Moments such as these brought guests to their feet.
Yet another rallying point came courtesy of Mayor Sylvester Turner, who highlighted a change to police policy he plans to implement in Houston. “In this city, we will ban chokeholds and strangleholds,” Turner declared, to thunderous applause, adding that police officers will have to announce before open fire on a suspect.
Floyd’s niece, Brooke Williams, drew chuckles and laughs from the crowd when she recalled that her uncle would occasionally pay her to scratch his head. But she quickly turned fierce as she demanded a change in the country. “They say, ‘Make America Great Again,’” the diminutive Williams fumed. “When has America ever been great?”
The raw emotion continued during R&B star Ne-Yo’s rendition of Boyz II Men’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.” The vocalist broke down while belting out the performance. Gospel numbers by singers Kim Burrell and Kathy Taylor soared.
The announcement of a new George Floyd memorial sports center planned for Floyd’s old Third Ward neighborhood was welcome news.
At the end of the service, hundreds of onlookers — many who had waited for several hours in the scorching Houston heat — chanted Floyd’s name as his casket was escorted by pallbearers from Yates High School to a hearse.
The rose gold coffin was then transported to a horse-drawn carriage for a mile-long trek to the Houston Memorial Gardens in Pearland, where Floyd would be buried beside his mother, “Cissy.” The street was lined with onlookers, many who waved signs, cheered, and even ran up to touch the carriage.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo hugged guests and posed for the occasional picture. “We’re living history,” he told CultureMap. “George Floyd is going to change the world for real — and Houston’s leading the way. This is the city of tomorrow.”
Acevedo also praised the “constructive” service for focusing on “love and change, not hate and destruction. It’s time,” he added, “it’s time for everyone to come out of their comfort zone and meet each other halfway.”
Justin Jones, who helped organize the June 2 peace march in downtown Houston, which saw some 60,000 gather, called Floyd his mentor. “He would bust you in your head if he had to,” Jones told CultureMap, “to show you right, to get you back on path.” Jones added that the time was now for a shift in law enforcement policy and vowed to to continue to demonstrate: “We need to do so peacefully, but change has to come — it just has to.”
Funeral guest T.J. Boyce was invigorated by the service. “For the first time in my lifetime, I feel a different energy in this country,” he told CultureMap. “Our reality has been caught on camera. As a Black man, you learn to live in the skin you’re in. It’s hard to trust — we’ve never seen real change. But we need it. We need change.”
Time will tell if true, systemic change in regards to police brutality and race relations will actually come. But in the ongoing struggle, the world can no doubt look to “Superman,” the gentle giant, for strength.
George Floyd's casket was carried by a horse-drawn carriage.
The funeral service lasted nearly four hours.
The Rev. Al Sharpton delivered a fiery eulogy.
Flowers adorned the entrance of the church.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and a funeral attendee.
Those who were denied entry were given a funeral program.
Floyd's rose gold casket was carried by members of his high school.
Onlookers flooded the street to catch a glimpse of the procession.
The Floyd family, donned in white, enters the church.
Visitors waved, rang bells, and waved flags at the procession.
A positive sign.
The funeral was attended by young and old.
Floyd friends and family wore white.
The hearse was lined with lillies.
Signs in front of the church honored Floyd and his last minutes of life.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.
Houston Texans owner, Cal McNair, and wife, Hannah.
Security was tight at the funeral.