The name George Floyd has become a symbol across not only the US, but also the wider world. While George Floyd became known to most of us in death, he also lived a life that was deeply cherished by those closest to him. George’s brother, Philonise Floyd, and his sister-in-law, Keeta Floyd, join The Real News for an exclusive interview looking back on George’s life three years since his death at the hands of convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Philonise and Keeta, who have since established the Philonise and Keeta Floyd Institute for Social Change, continue to struggle for police accountability and racial justice.
Production: Nelly Cardoso, Michael Ma
Post-Production: Michael Ma
Philonise Floyd: Hi. I’m Philonise Floyd, brother of George Floyd.
Keeta Floyd: I’m Keeta Floyd, the VP of Philonise and Keeta Floyd Institute for Social Change and the wife of Philonise Floyd.
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, Philonise, Keeta, thank you both so much for sitting down with me here at The Real News Network. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. I, frankly, don’t know how to say how sorry I am to you and your family for everything that you’ve been through. But we at The Real News, and our audience, I know are sending you nothing but love and solidarity from now into eternity.
The world and the rest of the country really came to know George, or Perry, because of what happened to him on the worst day and, ultimately, the last day of his life. I wanted to ask if we could change time and reality, and somehow the people of the world knew George because of what happened to him on the best day of his life. What do you think folks would know about him? What would you want folks to know about George in his happier days?
Philonise Floyd: Oh man, it’s so much. He was an amazing person when it come to speaking with others, encouraging others to do things. He taught people so much in church. Basketball was one of his passions. So, he taught a lot of people basketball. He taught them different moves in football. He even cut kids’ hair who was underprivileged, meaning that they mom was just going to put the… They call it the chili bowl.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, yeah. The bowl.
Philonise Floyd: [All laugh] The bowl. And they were going to cut it like that. He couldn’t let them go to school like that. I remember him when he bought the clippers and he said, I can do a better job. But it turned out he did a better job than a whole bunch of the barbers. And people was lining up, I want my hair cut. I want my hair cut.
George, he did a lot of things in the community. He took a lot of kids to the YMCA. Even when the YMCA had closed down in the neighborhood, he was taking people to the Boys & Girls Club because he knew a lot of people from playing sports. When you go to church and stuff, you get to meet a lot of people. So by being in church, we get to greet other people. They just paved the way.
George, he was just an astonishing person to us because we prayed together, we slept together. We did so much. We ate banana mayonnaise sandwiches and stuff.
Maximillian Alvarez: [Laughs] I’ve heard about these sandwiches.
Philonise Floyd: Yeah. It’s a lot of stuff. We had salmon croquette for breakfast. If my mom couldn’t afford salmon croquette, we had mackerel. We ate grits and eggs with it. It was just always a day of love in the household. So, the memories that we cherished, me and my sister, we was just talking about him today, how much we miss him. We wish that he didn’t have to go through what he went through. Because all the money that they gave us, they can have it all back. I just want my brother.
Maximillian Alvarez: Okay. Keeta, what about you? What do you remember?
Keeta Floyd: For me, I don’t have the perfect love story, what childhood was like with George. I met George as an adult, at our wedding, actually. He was just so supportive. He was extremely proud of the fact that Philonise had just gotten married. He had just started trucking school, so he had started a business. George was eager and excited about all those new endeavors that we were coming up on. He was just excited that day.
One of the things that’s always stood out with him, for me, is that he always had something positive to say to the children. It’s like, hey, stay in school. Make sure you’re doing this. Make sure you’re doing that. And I thought that was amazing advice because here it is, he’s like seven feet tall, and all the kids looked up to him. He just always had a pleasant word of advice to give to them. So that’s my love story about George. He was just so sweet and humble. A humble guy, a gentle giant.
Philonise Floyd: You know what’s funny about it? Because I took our son over there to see George, and he was talking to [inaudible] because he played football too. He was like, I’m this good. You’re not better than me. And George was just sitting down the entire time. So George said, let me see what you got. He stood up, and he’s like, man, I never thought he was going to stop standing up [laughs]. He said that they was moving, you know how when you’re wrestling? My brother was just pushing him, pushing him out the way. My son was still trying to go.
But the fact that he said, he’s going to be a great athlete because he’s not scared. He said, most people look at me, they get intimidated. But he said, he kept on going. It shows that he’s a competitor. And he said, I like that. That’s what he told me. I still remember that.
Maximillian Alvarez: I mean, it sounds like you guys also just… like that was part of your life growing up. I mean, we’re sitting here at the University of Houston, 20-minute walk from Cuney Homes. I was wondering if you could say a little more about what it was like for you guys growing up, what you guys got up to.
Philonise Floyd: Oh man, it’s crazy. Oh, well, we would come up every day. We had cereal. Whatever we wanted to eat for breakfast, we could eat it in the house. So the thing about it is, as I got older I used to see these marks on the wall. I said, Mom, why are all these marks on the wall? She said, because your brother always want to measure his height, because he wants to get taller all the time. So I’m looking up like, man, I wonder, will I ever reach that level? But now, as I got older, I’m probably at a certain level now that I never knew.
It was the old Cuney Homes. It was before they fixed it up. It’s before Texas Southern had gates. It’s before the University of Houston had all of these buildings and stuff built. Because I think they still had a Hot… No, they call it the Fatita now. It’s not the Hot Fives no more. I remember watching him play there from Jack Hays High School, we going to different games at the Barnett Stadium. I remember him being in the neighborhood playing them pickup games. And when I was old enough – Well, I wasn’t really old enough to play, but they let me play.
And they was teaching me how to be physical and how to play the game. And I remember his friend. He told his friends, play against him just like he playing against grown men. So he put a move on me, and I just fell on the ground.
Maximillian Alvarez: He crossed you up?
Philonise Floyd: No, he clipped me! But nobody knew that he clipped me. And I was ashamed because I’m like, he didn’t cross me over because he didn’t have the ball, but he did a move on me where it made me fall. And then they gave him the ball and then he shot. But that’s the same guy who went overseas to play basketball. He was already a star. But I was trying to guard him and all he did was just shoot right over me.
The point I’m trying to make is he said, the only way you’re going to progress, you got to play against people that’s better than you. He said you can’t get comfortable playing with people that’s on the same level as you.
Keeta Floyd: It was just always positive advice coming from him. And he loved God.
Philonise Floyd: Yes.
Keeta Floyd: It was like everything was just so humble about him.
Philonise Floyd: Everything. On that same court, I remember when the pastor, he used to come out there and set the chairs up and stuff on the basketball court. Nobody would come out. And George came and sat down, and all of a sudden, when he sat down, everybody came out and wanted to have church.
So he started a movement right then and there with people in the community who wanted to attend church. Because he always said, you have to put the guns down. That’s the number one thing. He always said it’s too many people who’s struggling that can’t, and they trying to survive, but they’re going to shoot at each other for what? He said, you going to give these people your whole entire life and you’ll never see daylight again because you murdered somebody.
And that’s the same thing with the police officers that did the thing they did. If they could change everything, I know they would. I know they would want to. But the fact that once you go down the wrong path and you do something that vicious to somebody, it’s over with.
Keeta Floyd: There’s no turning back. Society doesn’t look at you the same.
Philonise Floyd: Yeah. One of those officers, he was Black, but nobody didn’t know. And his whole family, they just said, cast him away. We wasn’t raised like that.
Keeta Floyd: Wasn’t raised like that.
Philonise Floyd: Yeah.
Keeta Floyd: They reached out to us and they apologized on his behalf.
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, I wanted to ask about that with the few minutes I got left with you guys. And I don’t know, I feel just like everyone else in the country and have just been reliving the horrors of that moment, the injustice that George and your family and so many others endure in this country. It’s really good for my soul to hear these stories, and I’m really honored that we get to share them with our audience.
And I wanted to build on that positivity and ask about the work that you all are doing, and what it’s been like for you to step into that role. I imagine it’s a whirlwind. But now, as your shirts say, y’all founded the Philonise and Keeta Institute for Social Change. So tell me about what it’s been like stepping into this role out of so much pain? Trying to make change and trying to use this horrific thing that happened to George, to make sure that it doesn’t happen again?
Philonise Floyd: It’s going to always be emotional. Because the fact that every time I step out, I always tell myself I’m doing it for my brother. But the fact that it’s bigger than my brother, because there’s so many other individuals around the world who are going through the same thing.
As you can see, Ralph [inaudible], you can see the problem that he had. He was shot right outside of a door in the head and then in his arm, and still nobody wanted to give him any assistance. He went to like two or three houses and then nobody wanted to help him until he finally got some help. But my thing is, that, to me is, there’s no way I could have turned somebody back knowing that somebody was bleeding like that. So I look at that. I look at what happened to Dante Wright when we were down there.
Keeta Floyd: On trial.
Philonise Floyd: On trial. And we had to come out and speak. And I think about his mama and his dad, that was an interracial couple. And the fact that it doesn’t matter, they lost their son. And she’d say it all the time.
Keeta Floyd: Behind the air freshener.
Philonise Floyd: Hanging out.
Keeta Floyd: And a trained police officer thought that she pulled her Taser versus her gun. And she’d trained individuals on how to be safe with a Taser versus a gun.
And so what we do with our institution is we go in. And on a community side, we advocate with those families, we give them resources, we answer any questions that they may have. But for some reason, every time Philonise walks in the room, it’s just giving them a breath of fresh air that gives them hope. And they’re like, we can get through this, because you guys went through so much. And it’s like, but you’re going through it right now. And so our hearts just go out to them.
One of the biggest things that we do is we do a lot of policy changes. We review the policies and procedures with different government agencies. And so we let them know reasons as to why these policies should change. And not just a conversation of us being angry or us being bitter, because that’s not what the case is all about. You can’t argue numbers. So we bring all the statistics to them, and we let them know, this is what’s going on in this area. And unfortunately, it’s a lot of people of color that’s experiencing this. You don’t see that in other neighborhoods.
I remember one of our speaking engagements – Because we go throughout the country and we have these conversations with different entities – One of our speaking engagements, we were in the City of Vermont, and we were speaking to a crowd at a business. And the lady was the CEO of the company. And when we began to explain the difference in how we teach our children for something as simple as when you’re stopped by the police officer, here are the safety things you should follow: put your windows down, put hands on the wheel, it blew her away. She started crying. She became very emotional. She was like, I didn’t know that you guys had to teach your children that, because I just don’t do that. Caucasian lady versus African American upbringing.
Philonise Floyd: And she didn’t know.
Keeta Floyd: Yeah, she didn’t know. And so it touched her employees, because they’ve never seen that side of her. She’s always very structured and poised and militant. And so it blew them away to see that she did have a soft side and she did want to be about change.
And for me, the most valuable piece is voting, making sure that we vote the right people into office, and making sure we hold them accountable. I always like to say, casually, that we vote them in and we pay them with our tax dollars. And so why don’t we hold them accountable? Because if we start a business, we hire staff, we’re going to hold them accountable. So let’s hold them to the fire. If they say they’re going to do these things, let’s set attainable goals and objectives to where we can tap in and see if they’re actually fulfilling those duties. And so those are the things that Philonise and I stay on top of.
Philonise Floyd: The Philonise and Keeta Floyd Institute for Social Change, turning our pain into purpose.
Keeta Floyd: That’s right.
Philonise Floyd: We preach about everything from systemic racism, police reform, it’s a lot of different things.
Keeta Floyd: We do criminal justice reform, mental health awareness, youth enrichment programs.
Philonise Floyd: Mental health is huge.
Keeta Floyd: It’s huge. Because what happens is here in our own city, University… In Houston.
Philonise Floyd: You said University of Houston.
Keeta Floyd: Yes. I used to work here [Philonise Floyd]. So here in our own city of Houston, just not too long ago, we had to go and stand with Benjamin Crump for all of the casualties that they were having inside of the jail system. And they’re unexplained. No one can explain what happened to these people. You have cameras, you have trained professionals, and they’re supposed to be doing, watching a 24-hour surveillance and check in. So how could you not notice that someone is lying dead in a corner for hours, and then you have no outcome or solution as to what happened to them?
And so that’s what Philonise and I do. We get legal teams together to do the research and pull it together to see what’s really going on behind the scenes.
Philonise Floyd: Shake some stuff up.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell yeah. Well, and thank you for doing that. And I just wanted to ask in the last 30 seconds I’ve got with you, what can folks out there do to continue to stand in solidarity with you, with the rest of the Floyd family, and to fight the injustice that stole your brother away?
Philonise Floyd: So get out and vote. Get out and pray. Get out and help work with others to help change laws, because we’re stronger in numbers.
Keeta Floyd: That’s right.
Philonise Floyd: That’s the number one thing. We’re stronger in numbers. The more people that we’re getting out here to vote and get things established in life, the more that we feel that we can succeed in life and get to change these laws.
Because it’s difficult as it is when you vote certain people in. But when you have other people who want to sit there and hold these people accountable, then I feel that we can get up to the level we need to get to. Because as of now, to me, it’s like people are trying to do whatever they want to do.
There’s much I could talk about. I can talk about Alec. I could talk about the stand-your-ground laws in Florida. I could talk about how Texas, we have an open policy with open carry with guns. And people feel that they can murder you at any moment. It shouldn’t be like that. People shouldn’t think, first let me shoot and ask questions later. Because at the end of the day, that’s somebody mama. That’s somebody brother. That’s somebody son. That’s somebody daughter that you murdering, and they will never see daylight again.
And then most of the time, if a police officer do it, they’re going to get a certain amount of time, and they’re going to get right back out – That’s if they get time. And then most of them have the military outside protecting their houses. Because they feel like they murdered somebody and it wasn’t wrong.
I seen a 20-year-old Caucasian girl, they went into the wrong yard. They were turning around to leave, and she got shot right in the neck. How you think those parents are feeling right now?
Keeta Floyd: That’s right. Regardless of color. It’s not about color always. It’s about a human life. The humanity of it all.
Philonise Floyd: The humanity.
Keeta Floyd: That’s somebody’s loved one, and they want them to come home just like we want you to go home. As, you know, professionals, you signed up to protect and serve. And we want you to do just that. We want everybody to go home safely.
One of the things for me, or a few things for me is to bring about awareness and educate your communities. Go and become familiar with those legislators or those state representatives in your community. Have those tough conversations with them. When they coming out campaigning, knocking on your door. Ask them. That’s your opportunity to ask them. If you can’t get off to go into the town hall meetings, somehow, someway, stay aware of what’s going on. Because laws are being changed, and it’s affecting our children. And tragedy should not hit your front door before you begin to say, oh, let me make this change now. Oh, I understand where you’re coming from now. That’s all it’s about.
Philonise Floyd: Yeah. Trayvon Martin was one of the tragedies that struck at when, from my time, being, because even though I heard about Rodney King, the fact that Trayvon Martin was murdered while he was walking home. And the operator had said, hey, sir, I don’t need you to follow him. And the guy kept following him, and he got off on a stand your ground law. How can you get off on a stand your ground law and you following somebody? Wouldn’t you think somebody trying to hurt you, if they’re following you? What you following me for?
Keeta Floyd: And that’s where the community can come together and rally against laws like that. You have a voice, use it to your advantage. Let them know that you don’t agree with this policy, and give them examples as to why. Force their hand like they force yours.
Philonise Floyd: Yeah. Coming up, we having an event. You want to do the honors? You can tell.
Keeta Floyd: Yes. We’re going to have the… Well on this year, it’s the remembrance of George Floyd, because it’s on the death of him. But Houston has actually named June 9 as George Floyd Day. So moving forward, we would like to celebrate his life versus his death. And so one of the things we’re going to be doing is going out into the Cuney Homes community center, hosting a basketball game, because George loved sports.
Philonise Floyd: He loved sports.
Keeta Floyd: For the youth. And we’re going to bring down a lot of different individuals. And we’re going to have panel discussions open to the public with a lot of advocates that’s on board on panel, like Al Sharpton, Ben Crump, different members of the organization that go out and they do activism with us. We stand alongside them.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell, yeah. Well, Philonise, Keeta, thank you both so much for the work that you do, and thank you for sitting down with me here at The Real News. I really appreciate it.