SACRAMENTO – They’d say it was all orchestrated by a higher power, but Sacramento’s Genesis Church family clearly played a major role in organizing the recent memorial service in Minneapolis, Minnesota for George Floyd. Floyd died on May 25 yelling out “I can’t breathe” as a White police officer pressed down on his neck with his knee for nearly nine minutes.
Genesis’ Senior Pastor Dr. Tecoy Porter spearheaded the June 4 service as president of the Sacramento Chapter of Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN). Rev. Sharpton delivered eulogies at the memorial service and Floyd’s funeral in Houston the following week.
“We had about four days to put everything together and when I say everything, I mean everything from arranging transportation with the family — Tyler Perry came in and did his part in terms of offering his private jet for the family and getting Sharpton in from New York — to making funeral arrangements,” Dr. Porter said.
Dr. Porter says he was one of the first people to see Floyd’s body, upon visiting the funeral home with the man’s loved ones.
“I won’t betray the family’s trust, but it was a moment,” he said.
Dr. Porter also coordinated celebrities and members of the Congressional Black Caucus who wanted to attend the memorial service and handled security and media as well.
The memorial service was held at Northern Central University. Rev. Sharpton reached out to Dr. Porter, trying to secure a location, because he knew Dr. Porter’s brother, Dr. Ellington Porter, worked there as an associate professor. The university president is Scott Hagan, a White man who once pastored churches in Sacramento. Dr. Tecoy Porter said Hagan jumped at the chance to lend a hand and “rolled out the red carpet” for Floyd’s family and organizers.
“All these kinds of angles and relationships kind of came together,” Dr. Porter said.
The memorial service was aired live on national television and was streamed online. Among those speaking were attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing the Floyd family as he has done locally for the family of Stephon Clark, the young father who was killed by two Sacramento police officers who mistook his cell phone for a gun. Crump called out the names of Clark and other African Americans who have died after interaction with law enforcement.
There was another memorial service in North Carolina, where Floyd was born and his actual funeral was held in Houston, where he grew up. Endless mourners waited in long lines there for a six-hour public viewing. Dr. Porter said it was also important to have an acknowledgement in the city where Floyd took his last, labored breath, as a way to comfort his loved ones there, and to help the city heal after days of protests.
“Minneapolis had to mourn, it had to grieve and bring about some closure,” Dr. Porter said.
“Now you see what’s happening resulting from that and there have been some major changes in that city and it sparked a revolution pretty much across the nation and the globe,” he added.
Dr. Porter said he was happy to lend a hand to Floyd’s family and to continue to work alongside national leaders.
“One thing I’ve learned from Rev. Sharpton and Mr. Crump is that protest is the start, it’s not the end at all, it needs to go somewhere, it needs to go to some policy change, law change and concrete steps.”
Dr. Porter says he was thrust into this different arena of leadership after Clark’s death in March 2018. The shooting happened 15 yards from his church, in the backyard of Clark’s grandmother, Sequita Thompson. Ms. Thompson attends Genesis. The local NAN chapter was started in the wake of Clark’s death.
“I wasn’t a real big activist before then, honestly,” Dr. Porter shared. “I was a man with a church, trying to do that well, trying to hold up a corner, then that pulled me in, so I said, ‘There’s a greater need and we need to do something.’”
There’s plenty of work in the community, he says.
“Protest is one and regular people running for office, attending PTA meetings, getting with your city council members and your assembly members who represent your district, just being involved in the process,” he said. “And speaking of showing up, other things we can do now, is voting and taking the census; just simple things to be involved and not to be silent and not allowing things to pass over us.”
Black churches haven’t been vocal enough, Dr. Porter says, in addressing systemic racism and the killing of Black men and women by the police.
“We’re behind in this. We were behind this with Stephon Clark, We were behind this with Joseph Mann when that happened,” Dr. Porter said of the mentally ill man shot and killed by Sacramento police officers in Del Paso Heights in 2016. “You didn’t really see Black churches taking a stand in that whole situation.
“We kind of grew comfortable after President Obama, we got lulled into a sleep that everything was in a post-racial society and all that. Trump woke us up with everything that happened and the ‘Trump-ites’ who follow his lead, they’ve woken up a sleeping giant, not just with Black people, but with White people also. We need this momentum and we need to go after it and try to institute change.”
In addition to organizing the Minneapolis memorial, Dr. Porter attended Floyd’s funeral in Houston. When he wasn’t traveling, he was helping host a prayer rally, calling for justice and peace, along with the group Sacramento Area Congregations Together and he stood with Mayor Steinberg as he announced proposed police reform.
“You have to start somewhere,” Dr. Porter said.
Dr. Porter supported Assemblymember Shirley Weber’s bill AB 392, also known as the Stephon Clark bill, that successfully called for reform to California’s long-standing police use-of-force standard. He is also a co-sponsor of Assemblymember Mike Gipson’s new bill, AB 1196, which calls for criminalizing the use of a carotid artery restraint hold to forcibly detain a suspect, the same hold that Officer Derek Chauvin used on George Floyd.
Dr. Porter and Genesis Church also played host recently to a listening session between California Governor Gavin Newsom and African American community members after protests turned violent here in Sacramento. Following the meeting, Gov. Newsom held a press conference, addressing the protests and the underlying issues that led to them, saying, “The Black community is not responsible for what’s happening in this country right now. We are.”
Dr. Porter said he was glad Gov. Newsom genuinely heard what the Black community members had to say.
“We helped create a baseline, a foundation to what he’s been saying regarding racial relations and how it’s not just our issue and you can’t look to Black people to fix racism because we’re the ones who are oppressed. He got that exactly from us, from that circle of community leaders in our city. He’s listening.”
Dr. Porter says he’s motivated to action by his children.
“I have three children and a few nieces and nephews. All in all they’re great children, great kids, but they are Black and even though I’ve done my best to raise them right and influenced them to do everything they can to be good citizens, good Christian people, it doesn’t matter because people don’t know that. It only takes one little thing and they can be shot dead and their future’s gone.”
In a few months, students in the Meadowview area will start classes at Tecoy Porter College Prep, the latest Fortune School charter campus. Dr. Porter says he’s humbled by the honor.
“I struggled with that. I didn’t want people to think, ‘Oh he’s arrogant, yada, yada, yada.’”
He’s come to embrace the significance, though, he says.
“We don’t see enough of us in leadership in terms of the Black community. The reason why he hold onto our Martin Luther Kings, our Jesse Jacksons, Al Sharptons and President Obama is because of the lack of notable leadership that’s out there, that you see out there all the time, but if people need to see a Black person doing something, if I can be that person, so be it.”
By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Staff Writer