Yesterday was Aeriel and my seventh wedding anniversary. Normally, each year, we take a trip somewhere. This tradition started when we decided to take an unplanned honeymoon trip to Puerto Rico after our wedding in 2013. We call it our ‘honeymoon-aversary.’ Over the years, we’ve visited some pretty amazing places for this occasion, including Korea, New Orleans, and Smokey Mountain National Park. It’s a way for us to keep alive the adventure that brought us together nearly a decade ago.
With everything going on in the world these past few days, weeks, and months, a traditional ‘honeymoon-aversary’ just wasn’t in the cards this year. We thought about planning a little stay-cation getaway to a nearby AirBnB, but with the violent murder of George Floyd and the uprising here in Minneapolis, we didn't feel like celebrating. Instead, we decided to focus our attention on supporting the community in this time of suffering and grief. Aeriel had the chance to visit South Minneapolis a few days ago, but I hadn’t yet seen the neighborhood where violence, protest, and outrage has rippled out to the rest of the world.
So last night after our daughter went to bed, we took a trip. This year we only traveled a few miles away for our anniversary, but what I saw was a world unlike any that I’ve seen before. We decided to visit the spot where George Floyd was murdered. Typically, the drive would only take about 15 minutes, but this time it took twice as long. We took the long way through quiet neighborhoods and a downtown that was empty aside from the armored trucks and soldiers with AK47 rifles on their hips. On the roads, we passed several envoys of huge military vehicles, some as tall as tanks. Highways and roads were blocked off with barricades. As we drove south, we saw more and more buildings in ruin, windows shattered, and smoldering piles of rubble.
On the roads, we passed several envoys of huge military vehicles, some as tall as tanks. Highways and roads were blocked off with barricades. As we drove south, we saw more and more buildings in ruin, windows shattered, and smoldering piles of rubble.
Eventually we found ourselves winding through the streets of South Minneapolis to the intersection of 38th Ave. and Chicago Ave., which was the exact spot where George Floyd was murdered. While we searched for a spot to park, I saw a piece of plywood covering the entrance to a Target store that read, “Can You Hear Us Now?”. A chill ran down my spine. We parked the car near the Laura Ingles Wilder School, the place where we took our daughter for her early childhood education classes back before the pandemic, just three blocks away from the intersection where George Floyd was murdered.
It was a hot night for early June. The temperature was hovering in the low 90’s. I told Aeriel that Mother Nature must’ve been as angry as everyone else. As we got out Aeriel said, “This is unreal. Facemasks, tanks, and armed soldiers with machine guns. It’s not like this a movie set or something. This is real life.” All I could do was shake my head in disbelief. People were on their front lawns sitting in plastic chairs, surrounded by signs that read, “Black Lives Matter,” and “Justice for George Floyd”. As we got closer to the large crowd of hundreds gathered at 38th and Chicago, I took note of who was around and I was surprised to see that there was an equal distribution of Black and White people. The only Asian face that I saw was Aeriel’s.
As we got out Aeriel said, “This is unreal. Facemasks, tanks, and armed soldiers with machine guns. It’s not like this a movie set or something. This is real life.” All I could do was shake my head in disbelief.
It was approaching 8 o’clock in the evening, almost exactly one week after George Floyd was killed. We walked past a cargo van full of food and medical supplies. A large white bus was parked in the middle of the street with a blue cross and the words “Free Water” hand-painted on it's side. Just beyond the van, the names of hundreds of Black people killed by police were chalked on the street. The air smelled like burnt rubber and patchouli. I heard someone over a megaphone say, “Free food! Fresh produce! Diapers and wipes!” Each storefront we passed was boarded up and in front of the entrance was a pile of non-perishable food, first-aid supplies, and baby products. I wondered, "Is this what all the police tanks and machine guns are for?"
As we came upon the corner of 38th and Chicago, we saw a large crowd gathered around a beautiful memorial to George Floyd. On the ground in front of a bus stop was a wide circle of flowers, balloons, candles, and burning incense. Inside that circle was a smaller circle of flowers and to the side of that was an outline of a body chalked on the ground, with wings extending from the shoulders. The head of the silhouette was illuminated like the sun. The walls of the storefront and bus stop were covered in hand-drawn portraits of George Floyd and banners urging for justice. People stood around the circle taking photos and absorbing the horrific gravity of what had happened in this very spot just one week before. The sun was setting, casting a warm orange glow over the crowd.
Aeriel and I stood motionless for several minutes, taking in the scene. It felt like I was watching myself and everyone else on that street corner from outside my body. Aeriel discreetly knelt down and placed the flowers that we had cut from our garden on the pavement. My heart was open, and I let all of the emotions swirling around that intersection flood through me. Standing just the outside of the memorial, we held each other for what seemed like an eternity.
The world churned and roiled around us, but we were completely still in each other’s arms. I asked Aeriel if she felt comfortable saying a prayer and she whispered a quiet plea for justice and healing. She asked if I wanted to say anything. At first, nothing came to mind. I quieted my mind and listened to my heart. Suddenly, words came. “May we know peace in our hearts, so there can be peace in the world. May we know love in our hearts, so there can be love in the world. And may there be justice in our hearts, so there can be justice in the world.”
“May we know peace in our hearts, so there can be peace in the world. May we know love in our hearts, so there can be love in the world. And may there be justice in our hearts, so there can be justice in the world.”
I opened my eyes and tears came rolling down my cheeks. To my left, I heard the roar of the crowd as they started up another chant: “No justice, no peace!” People pushed past us to get closer to the circle. Aeriel looked at me and gestured for us to move away from the circle and make way for others. As we did, we noticed a large sandwich board that had been positioned out of sight from where we’d been standing. On it was painted a vivid portrait of George Floyd and it was surrounded by hundreds of names and messages. Lying beside it was a box of sharpies and a note that said, “Please Sign”. Aeriel and both grabbed a marker and wrote a quick message. Mine simply said, “Much Love.”
As we walked away from the intersection, I was struck by the overwhelming feeling of love that swelled inside my chest. There were other feelings, like pain and sadness, but the love that I felt from witnessing the memorial site was astounding. Aeriel and I began reflecting about the contrast between the protestors and the police presence. From what we saw, there was nothing at all hostile or violent happening with the protestors. In fact, the crowd of protestors was peaceful, gentle, and calm. On the other hand, any time we saw the police, there was an unmistakable sense of fear, anxiety, and terror. There was no doubt in my mind who was responsible for the violence and destruction we'd seen in the news.
From what we saw, there was nothing at all hostile or violent happening with the protestors. In fact, the crowd of protestors was peaceful, gentle, and calm. On the other hand, any time we saw the police, there was an unmistakable sense of fear, anxiety, and terror. There was no doubt in my mind who was responsible for the violence and destruction we'd seen in the news.
The truth was, I probably wouldn’t have gone if it weren’t for my wife. The pull of our life at home and the demands of taking care of our daughter are so strong that I might not have taken the time to step away and see for myself what is happening in the world. But I’m so glad I did. It is one thing to see it through a camera lens on social media. It’s a totally different thing to see it with your own eyes. The world is changing, fast. It’s a lot to wrap your head around, and I know all too well that the easiest thing to do is to just turn away. Trust me though, you have to see what is happening for yourself. Before you make any judgements about protestors and riots, get out of your house and go for a drive. Walk around and see how your community is responding to injustice and brutality. See how the world is changing. You won’t regret it.
Aeriel turned to me and said, “Thanks for coming down here with me. I know this is probably not what you had in mind for our honeymoon-aversary.” I looked at her in her "Dismantle" t-shirt, and in that moment she was more beautiful than ever before. I smiled and said, “No, thank you. Thank you for bringing me here. I needed to see this. There is no where I would rather be.”