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‘It feels human’: George Floyd Square celebrates Black joy with art

Nearing the end of Black History Month, community members at East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue held space to celebrate life in a gathering with performing artists.
Image by Parker Johnson
People gather to listen to one of the performers during the “Living Celebration of Black History” event at George Floyd Square on Saturday, Feb. 27. Around 30 performers sung, spoke, rapped, and danced to express what Black joy feels like to them.

Saturday’s warm overcast afternoon saw dozens of people circulating in and around George Floyd Square: dancing, laughing, joking, smoking and gathering slowly at Peoples’ Way, an occupied former Speedway gas station.

Music with a strong bassline boomed out of the back of a truck as people reunited with friends and family or paid their respects at different memorial sites.

The square was alive and — in defiance of systemic oppression, activism fatigue and the city’s attempts to reclaim the space — so were the people in it.

Black performing artists — singers, rappers, poets, dancers, etc. — organized the “Living Celebration of Black History” event to show off their creativity for their community on their own terms, said one of the event’s main organizers, Brandyn Lee, 24.

Dozens of community members watched a series of nearly 30 Black creatives explore what Black joy and being Black means to them.

“We want to celebrate our ability to live in whatever way we so choose,” Lee said.

Eventually, an “OG organizer,” Toussaint Morrison, stood in front of the masked crowd and asked the spectators to think about the people of their lineage and to think of how they came to be in the Square that day.

He rallied them into a call and response to kick off the event with one rule: They could “be off-key” but “can’t be off-rhythm.” He called out: “Ancestors watching, I know they’re watching. Ancestors watching, I know, I know.”

Celebrating Black joy

Primarily inspired by the end of Black History Month, the event came just a week before Derek Chauvin’s trial, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with George Floyd’s murder.

Most of the small crowd huddled together on benches between abandoned gas pumps at Peoples’ Way. Huda, an organizer who declined to give her last name due to privacy concerns, said the crowd’s size mattered less than the authenticity of the gathering.

“To us, it wouldn’t matter if there was one person out here as long as we can do what we do and celebrate in the space,” she said. “Today is just showing up and saying something, whatever that may be.”

Several community members said sharing Black joy is especially important because it is often the least elevated and understood part of Black culture. Co-organizer Sirius Marie, 21, said the Square offered that space.

“It’s therapeutic,” Marie said. “Showing Black joy and Black emotions is something that we should see to kind of help us as a community see what that looks like and how to get there.”

If people were hungry, they could grab free snacks available behind the crowd and near the front of the building. If they were cold, they could warm up near a bonfire with a cup of apple cider or hot chocolate.

The event was a celebration of life, and it was evident that, to the people in George Floyd Square, one of the most important parts of living life is taking care of their neighbors. They said that sense of community is central to their experience of joy and security.

Speaker Sol, 32 — who declined to give their last name due to privacy concerns — said the Square is the one place in Minneapolis they do not feel like they are constantly at risk of being killed or threatened based on their appearance.

“Here, it’s like I can just exist as a Black person without the fear of being perceived as dangerous, and it feels incredibly different from everywhere else,” they said. “It feels human. It feels like [how] I’m supposed to feel everywhere else but don’t.”

Spoken word performer Markaeanna Dionne, 16, has been protesting and educating her community without a break since the summer. She said performing at the event was empowering to her.

“We’re not going to ignore [civil unrest and the uprising], but we also need to realize that Black America is more than us being shot at by the police,” she said. “It’s things like this [event] that makes me feel powerful. … I have a voice, and it does deserve to be heard.”

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