By Alexa Spencer | Word In Black

Credit: Alexa Imani Spencer / Word In Black

(WIB) – Two years ago, on May 25, 2020, George Floyd cried out, “I can’t breathe!” as a Minneapolis police officer kept his knee on his neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds. 

Millions of people worldwide watched the cell phone video of Floyd repeatedly pleading for his life — and his murder catalyzed global uprisings against police brutality and anti-Blackness.   

Elected officials painted Black Lives Matter on city streets, and white people put signs of support in their windows. But Black people, in particular, continued to be affected mentally by the traumatc footage of Floyd being brutally murdered. 

Now the organization named after Floyd is on a mission to help Black people heal. 

“George Floyd should still be alive today,” says Jacari Harris, executive director of the George Floyd Memorial Foundation.  

“We know that video went around this world. Some people wanted to see it. Some people did not want to see it. Some people had to see it unwillingly,” Harris says. “And this is one of the things whereas, that’s trauma that they’re going to have to continue to think about, continue to listen to that video in the back of their head of him crying out for his mom, his daughter, and for help.”

“And those officers took his breath away,” he says. “So with that, we are focusing on the importance of healing, the importance of that trauma that has been forced upon us, and figuring out how can we break away from that knowing the ongoing issues that we’re facing.”

The Foundation seeks to improve mental health outcomes in Black Americans, decrease treatment barriers and stigmas, and increase mental and emotional well-being.

Darnella Fraizer, the then 17-year-old who filmed the incident, testified that she experienced anxiety and regret after Floyd’s death. She was not alone in what she felt. 

A 2018 study shows that Black people who are exposed to footage of unarmed Black people being killed by police experience poor mental health, with the worst impact occurring one to three months after exposure. 

Dr. Calisha Brooks, who supports the foundation’s Black Mental Health Program, says because Black people have been conditioned to normalize our pain, we don’t always recognize when we’ve been affected. 

“A lot of times, we don’t even know that we’re in trauma. And so, we may think that ‘Oh, I’m tired, I’m being lazy. I don’t want to get out of bed.’ No, that can be a form of depression or how your trauma manifests itself. So I think it’s really, really important that as a Black community, we are able to define and identify and normalize our experience; and call it for what it is. It is trauma and it is rooted in something systemic,” she says.

Through its Black Mental Health Program, the foundation seeks to improve mental health outcomes in Black Americans, decrease treatment barriers and stigmas, and increase mental and emotional well-being. 

We can heal as a community. Our community is our immunity, so that’s what we’re doing — providing a community of healing.

DR. CALISHA BROOKS

The organization recently hosted a Black Mental Health and Healing Justice conversation on self-care and is preparing for an upcoming session on cultivating nurturing relationships, which is free to the public.  

“We can heal as a community. Our community is our immunity, so that’s what we’re doing — providing a community of healing, a community of resources to say, ‘Hey, we’re in this together. This is traumatic. This is violence against us. How do we protect ourselves and hold ourselves and provide resources for ourselves within our communities?’” Brooks says.

Harris says the ultimate goal is to disrupt generational trauma and to continue doing this work, but the Foundation cannot do it alone. 

“Please support us. We need your help. We need your resources because it takes funding. It takes partnerships. It takes visibility,” he says. “I remember one time a corporation said, ‘What can we do other than give money?’ I said, ‘provide some visibility, not to just your internal network, but to your employees.’”

Join the Conversation

Word In Black is continuing the conversation about trauma in the Black community and how to heal. Join us on Twitter Spaces for “Healing Black Generational Trauma” on Wednesday, June 1 at 5 p.m. ET, as mental health advocates and therapists explore historical trauma in the Black community and share tools for our collective healing.