Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

The state of activism in Minnesota 4 years since George Floyd’s murder

A person yells into a megaphone during a protest.
Jayden Williams yells "I can't breathe" during a protest in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police custody on May 29, 2020, throughout downtown Rochester.
Traci Westcott | Post Bulletin

In the spring of 2020, the streets of Minneapolis and across the globe were filled with cries of “I Can’t Breathe” following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police.

It was one of the largest global activism movements in modern times. This Saturday will mark four years since Floyd’s death. Each day this week, Minnesota Now will look at a different impact his death had on Minnesotans. On Tuesday, the focus is activism and the grassroots work that continues years after the uprising.

For more, MPR News host Cathy Wurzer talked with Leslie Redmond, who was the president of the Minneapolis NAACP at the time of Floyd’s murder and the youngest president ever elected to the role.

She has since left that position and is the founding executive director of the nonprofits Don’t Complain, Activate and Win Back, which is holding a Day of Remembrance for Floyd on Friday.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Four years ago, the streets of Minneapolis and across the globe were filled with cries of, "I can't breathe," following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. It was one of the largest global activism movements in modern times. This coming Saturday will mark four years since George Floyd's death. And each day, Minnesota Now is focusing on a different impact that his death has had on Minnesotans. Today, we're looking at activism. And while the activism today is not an uprising, there is still grassroots work that's happening.

Joining us right now is Leslie Redmond. She was the president of the Minneapolis NAACP at the time of Floyd's murder and was the youngest president ever elected to that organization. She's since left that role and is the founding executive director of the nonprofit's Winback and Don't Complain, Activate. Leslie, it's good to hear your voice again. How have you been?

LESLIE REDMOND: I have been blessed. I've been very reflective. And I am looking forward to Friday.

CATHY WURZER: And I want to know a little bit more what you're doing here on Friday. But first I want to ask you about something you wrote two years ago, which was two years since the murder of George Floyd. And you wrote, "There is still no justice, no peace since George Floyd's murder." Do you still feel that way?

LESLIE REDMOND: For sure. When I think about what justice looks like, it would be if George Floyd was still alive, if he still had breath in his body, if he was still able to raise his daughter. That would be true, authentic justice. And when I think about the peace, we saw the buildings burned four years ago. A lot of those buildings have been rebuilt. But the community is still hurting. The hearts and the minds of the masses can never unsee what we've seen. And so there's still a lot of heartbreak. There's still a lot of hurt and pain in the community.

CATHY WURZER: I wonder, have there been any shifts that have occurred that are positive, when you look at them, since Floyd's death?

LESLIE REDMOND: Yeah, it's hard to see the light in the darkness sometime. One of the things Professor El-Kati told me years ago, he said, "The good thing about the darkness is that it makes it easier for the lights to find each other." And that's the one positive thing that I would say truly came out of this. There were a lot of people in the community that I didn't even know existed, and they didn't know I existed. But through the darkness and the lights truly rising up and activating, we are now more connected than we've ever been before. And I agree that we have to turn to those positive things that really came out of this horrific time period.

CATHY WURZER: And where do you find the positivity?

LESLIE REDMOND: The positivity is in each other. So even when I think about it, and I know we're going to talk about it more this Friday for your day of remembrance that I'm working on, but when I think about some of the participants, like Doug Baker, who was the head of Ecolab and is a huge figure in business, I didn't even know Doug Baker existed before 2020. I'm sure he didn't know that I existed. But now, he's going to be sitting on our panel, along with Attorney General Keith Ellison, Chief Arradondo, Nekima Levy Armstrong, Toshira Garraway from Family Support and Families Against Police Violence.

To me, the light is us coming together. The light is shining a light on the injustices that always existed because George Floyd is not the first person to be murdered at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department or any other police department. So the light for me would be that, one, there's more awareness of the injustices that communities have been facing for decades, and then also the community being able to come together to use our resources to be more connected to fight for racial justice and against injustice.

CATHY WURZER: As you say, there's more awareness of the injustices. And I wonder, since Floyd's death, would you feel that police are now being held more accountable when folks are killed in their custody or as a result of their actions?

LESLIE REDMOND: So what we saw in 2020 was miraculous for a number of reasons. And one of the main reasons was because it was the first time in modern history that we saw a white police officer in Minnesota be held accountable for murdering a Black man. And so that was a shift. You even think about earlier this year, in the case of Ricky Cobb, where the state troopers were charged for his murder. You think about the fact with Daunte Wright, which happened during the trial of Chauvin.

And so we for sure have seen a shift. However, there's a lot to be said that Black people are still being murdered. So it hasn't caused so much of a shift to where we're not seeing these horrible murders and these families that are left without their loved ones. But we are seeing a shift and some more accountability, which I think is a step in the right direction.

CATHY WURZER: So there are steps being taken. And as you say, there's positive out there. There's light in the darkness. But for some folks, as you know, sometimes apathy can set in. So it can despair. That can lead folks to shrug and say, well, nothing can be done. Is there some of that in the mix at all?

LESLIE REDMOND: I don't think it's despair, but I do think that people, in the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, are sick and tired of being sick and tired. For many of us, we've been on the frontlines for a long time. When I think about myself, my first real activation was with Jamar Clark, when he was murdered in North Minneapolis in 2015.

And so I told people, yes, next year is the five year remembrance of George Floyd, but it's the 10 year remembrance of Jamar Clark. And my first protest was in 2009. And so when you take in a perspective how long community members have been fighting and been crying and been yelling out, there is a portion of the community that is exhausted. But I think that we are all still committed to change and transformation. It might just look a little different nowadays.

CATHY WURZER: What can folks do who want to be part of the conversations that you are having?

LESLIE REDMOND: Yes, I love that question because we are hosting an activation this Friday, May 24t. And it's all day. We're starting at 8:00 AM in front of the Hennepin County Government Center. We're having an interfaith prayer that is very reflective of the one that we had back in 2021, shortly after Daunte Wright was murdered. It's in collaboration with the Minnesota Council of Churches and so really excited about that. People can come out.

And then at 1:00 PM, we're inviting people to come out to Sabathani Community center in South Minneapolis, where we're going to have a live recording of my Don't Complain, Activate podcast with some national guests. We're going to do a march protest from Sabathani to George Floyd Square. And then following up on this day of remembrance, starting on July the 14th, the second Sunday of each month, we're going to start having these Sunday dinner activations at Heal Minneapolis, where we continue the conversation because we recognize this day of remembrance is the beginning, but it's definitely not the end.

CATHY WURZER: It's good to converse, as you know, Leslie. But lawmaking is where the action is, right? So I wonder, how do you activate folks to get to lawmakers to make change?

LESLIE REDMOND: 100%. Well, the first part is even getting them in the room and having some of the conversations. Like you said, conversation is a starter. It's not the end. However, we're having a lot of the people in the same room that we don't always see at brunches and different events that we're having. In addition to that, I always encourage individuals to call their representatives, go to city council, go to the capitol, activate, and be involved. And I think you can definitely stay tuned to see more Winback activations around that because you're right. Policymaking is really what's going to transform the nation overall.

CATHY WURZER: You've done so much work. And as you said in our conversation, you can get tired. What keeps you going? I bet you get tired.

LESLIE REDMOND: Yes.

CATHY WURZER: But what keeps driving you forward?

LESLIE REDMOND: Yeah, so young people really drive me forward. And I know some people, listen, you're young yourself. I am, relatively speaking. However, there are younger people than me. And they deserve an opportunity at a better life. There are people who fought for me. I tell people I was born into the riots of 1992. And so to actually be able to activate during the uprising of 2020 was a blessing. But again, I'm standing on the shoulders of people that fought for my life and that realize that my life matter. And so what keeps me going is the young people who deserve a better future and opportunity than the one that they're currently being presented.

CATHY WURZER: And what are you hearing from young people?

LESLIE REDMOND: Young people, they're sick and tired of being sick and tired, too. I think with the emergence of social media and just Gen Z, they have a lot of spirit. They are excited. And they don't want to wait. They don't want to wait. They don't want to compromise. They want change. And they're willing to be a part of it. And so a lot of them will be there at Sabathani at 1:00 PM on Friday as well, a part of the activation and conversation.

CATHY WURZER: Well, Leslie Redmond, it is always a pleasure talking to you. Thank you. And best of luck as you move forward.

LESLIE REDMOND: Thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

CATHY WURZER: We've been talking to Leslie Redmond, the founding executive director of the nonprofits Winback and Don't Complain, Activate. Now tomorrow, we're going to continue our series with the state of Lake Street in Minneapolis, as we talk to business owners still working to rebuild that business corridor.

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