Akeem Brown went to Gordon Parks High School in St. Paul on Friday, thinking he would just pick up his diploma and then head home.
He’d worked hard to finish his high school career this year, taking a recent move to the Twin Cities and a pandemic in stride. The last few weeks of distance learning, staying at home, losing his job in the music industry and then watching the video of George Floyd being killed have been hard.
“It was disturbing. That could have been me, my friend, anybody,” said Brown, who is Jamaican American.
He quickly realized it had been the right decision to stop by.
He’d heard the school had been boarded up after some windows were broken the week before. But when he arrived, he saw that the huge sheets of plywood attached to the front of his school had been transformed into a massive mural with portraits of George Floyd and messages like “Black Lives Matter” and “Justice for George.”
He saw his friends, teachers and people from the neighborhood — playing music, working on a giant mural, congratulating him and his classmates on their academic accomplishments, and wishing him well.
“Just everybody coming together as one, which I love to see. That felt good,” Brown said. “Just telling me to keep my head up; I can achieve anything I want.”
Traci Gauer, the principal at Gordon Parks, spent the day distributing diplomas. She said the district even sent along lunches for people gathering and painting.
“It was really something to bring us all back together,” Gauer said, “It was an uplifting moment.”