Philonise Floyd on building a better future

Philonise Floyd, activist and brother of George Floyd, spoke to the Tech community at the Black History Month Lecture. He discussed the need for activitism and how to build a better future. // Photo courtesy of Julio Cortez AP Photo

On Feb. 9 the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, in collaboration with the African American Student Union (AASU), hosted the 2022 Black History Month Lecture. 

The featured speaker of the event was Philonise Floyd, writer, activist and brother of George Floyd, a man whose murder at the hands of police officers sparked a national movement of racial equity and justice.

In his interview, which garnered over 200 attendees, Philonise Floyd began by discussing how he started his work in advocacy. 

While he had little interest in social justice advocacy when he was younger, after his brother’s death Floyd was overcome with the need to fight further violence. He felt his only option was to dedicate himself to the cause.

Floyd also discussed the uniqueness of the situation surrounding his brother’s death that sparked a social justice movement. 

The video of George Floyd’s murder began to go viral while people were isolated at home during the COVID-19 pandemic and it was harder than ever before for people to look away from the violence and hatred Black Americans experience on the daily basis.  

“This was … a motion cinema picture of a modern-day lynching in broad daylight. You can’t hide it. You can’t sweep it under the rug. People all around the world witnessed this,” Floyd said.  

Floyd’s work towards racial justice began immediately. 

The same day as his brother’s funeral, Floyd and his family went to Washington D.C. to begin meeting with politicians to discuss the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

There was no time for Floyd to grieve. Instead, he felt a pressing need for legislation to hold police
officers accountable.

“I knew that the pain inside of me was turning into purpose for me. And, I knew I would have to get out and speak because I wasn’t just speaking for George. I was speaking for every individual who lost their life to police brutality,” Floyd said.

Floyd went on to list several victims of hate-based violence, emphasizing that he could not possibly name them all because the list is far too long.

“Like Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor … Eric Garner … Pamela Turner,” Floyd said.

The work for racial equity is what Floyd continues today — fighting for legislation that holds people in power accountable and roots out systemic racism in America. 

After George Floyd’s death, people around the world began protesting racial injustices, and the national conversation about race and discrimination shifted.

Floyd said the movement that began after his brother’s death was sustainable and impactful because of its emphasis on diversity and inclusion. The protests united people of various races and backgrounds, building a community of people with shared values wanting to create a world in which everyone will be treated equitably no matter their race.

Part of the reason the protests in 2020 were so impactful was because so many people showed up to do the work — speaking out against racism.

“I always tell people — you’ve got to speak up. That’s the number one thing: if you witness any injustice no matter your bias or prejudice to it, don’t bind on to it. Don’t allow what happened to my brother to be your brother … anybody that’s loved to you,” Floyd said.

As a part of his talk, Floyd described how racism — from microaggressions to systemic discrimination — continue to affect Black Americans every day. 

One of his greatest concerns was the fear and ignorance that so many—particularly white people — have towards Black people. This year, that fear and ignorance has made its way into discussions of education. 

“We’ve been asking to be treated fairly for years and have to tell our kids the same thing over and over and tell these teachers ‘hey, treat our kids fairly,’” Floyd said.

Floyd mentioned teachers play a significant role in combating racism in the classroom, and they need to create a nurturing environment where students can feel safe to ask questions about race and learn to interact with kids who are different from them.

“Because when they’re interacting, they’re kids. The fact that you have these adults trying to change the narrative of a child being a child — they’re the ones that we have to get out of the classroom,” Floyd said. 

Racism is often learned at home, he pointed out. 

“Racism is built in a home, and that’s where it starts … That’s a problem, and that’s why it’s up to the teachers,” Floyd said.

 To Floyd, community leaders, such as teachers and young people engaging in community organizing, give him hope for the future of justice in America. The protests of 2020 proved that people are willing to fight to create a safer and more just world for everyone.

“It starts at home … It all comes down to your own humanity, your own soul, your own willingness to sacrifice for the greater good,” Floyd said.

Floyd pointed out the best ways for people to get involved in fighting for justice is to begin at the community level by starting conversations with family, neighbors and friends about race and encouraging your own personal community to begin advocating for the changes they want to see.

Most importantly, Floyd encouraged everyone to vote. 

He dismissed the misconception about one individual vote not having an impact, and he encouraged everyone to use their vote to ensure they have a say in their government and that they choose elected officials who best represent their values. 

Floyd emphasized that voting is increasingly important given efforts to subvert democracy through
voter suppression.

“If you think your vote don’t count, why are they trying to take it away from you?” Floyd said. 

While the fight for racial justice is far from over, and some of the momentum from 2020 may have died down, Floyd offered words of encouragement for those who are still working to build a better future.

“Keep fighting for change … You have to be loud for the people with no voices,” Floyd said.

To learn more about Tech’s diversity and inclusion efforts and Black History Month programming,