Hundreds gathered in downtown Denver on Thursday morning for an hour-long memorial service honoring the life of George Floyd, whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers led hundreds of thousands of Americans across the country to take to the streets to demand justice and push for police reform.
The rows of stone benches in the Greek Amphitheater in Denver’s Civic Center park were filled by 10 a.m. with people holding red and pink roses and raising signs with the words, “Black Lives Matter,” and “Not one more!” in bold, black letters. The event included speeches from public officials, protest organizers, a singer, a pastor, a congressman and Denver’s mayor.
The memorial was small relative to the daytime protest crowds that have filled Civic Center park and the statehouse lawn and flowed through the streets of downtown for eight consecutive days. But attendees said the gathering had a similar feeling of collective mourning, unity, pain and celebration.
“It was beautiful,” said Jordan Dunbar, 23, who joined the memorial, “just seeing people from all over just to gather for not just the mourning of one life, but for the active change of a whole community. It was powerful.”
Floyd’s death on May 25 prompted worldwide demonstrations as well as reignited a push for a broader reckoning with the country’s institutional racism.
“The reality is that ‘All Lives Matter’ is a farce until ‘Black Lives Matter’ is a reality,” Rev. Eugene Downing of New Hope Baptist Church in northeast Denver preached to the crowd, explaining the blindspot in the counterargument that “all lives matter.”
“We’re here to celebrate the life of George Floyd. We’re thankful for this tremendous man of God who was known as a gentle giant,” Downing said. “His friends called him Big George. His family called him Perry, his middle name. His daughter said that when he lifted her up on his shoulders, she felt like she could touch the sky.”
Dunbar, who is a basketball coach in Aurora and a graduate student studying to become a counselor, said the memorial was inspiring. “From the speeches that the people were giving, to the song to the eight minute and 45 second moment of silence. All of it,” he said, looking out into the crowd.
The mourners sat in silence for nearly nine minutes in tribute to Floyd and for those that had died before him as a result of police brutality. During the silence, many bowed their heads, or closed their eyes. Some tilted their head to the sky to pray as cars sped by on West 14th Avenue.
After the speeches concluded, people walked outside the amphitheater to take turns with a shovel to collectively plant a shingle oak tree in honor of Floyd. Roses and pictures of Floyd were placed beneath the young tree, which stood about 10 feet tall.
“We plant a tree today in memory of George Floyd and all those names that we have called out, because we want it to always stand erect, tall, even taller than the 6-foot-7-inch George Floyd,” Mayor Michael Hancock said during his speech.
Dunbar participated in the day protest on Monday and wasn’t planning to participate in the memorial services on Thursday morning. He and his friend Caleb Gardner went downtown to help pick up trash after the protests the night before. But when they saw the crowd, they decided to join.
“I love this movement,” Dunbar said. “I love every part of it and I hope it continues until justice is made.”
During the memorial, the two friends sat on a ledge above the benches, watching and cheering on the speakers.
“It’s not like the first time this is happening,” said Gardner, 23, who has lived in Aurora since he was 6. “In fact, I’m more or less desensitized to it, in a way.”
He said he’s excited to see how much action has been taking place in response to the death of Floyd. But that change should have come a long time ago.
“I’m glad that everyone is taking this one so seriously and everyone is talking about it,” Gardner said. “And I hope, like the speaker said, that this is the last one. But you can’t change racism in two days.”
Both said they’ve never witnessed anything like the protests that have been happening in metro Denver and the rest of the country. The memorial, Dunbar said, felt like a snapshot of what community looks like.
“Turn off the TV and come and see for yourself,” he said. “If changes are coming, it’s gonna start at things like this.”
Dunbar said he hopes the protests continue for as long as necessary, until true changes are made. “Whether that’s two weeks or whether that is 200 days, we just need to keep on marching,” he said, adding that the civil rights movement occurred over many years. “If we are truly about it, if we’re truly wanting that change to happen, then I say, show up every single day.”
Protests and events in Colorado in response to Floyd’s death will continue into the weekend. On Friday, organizers are planning a “Day for Black Healing” at the Colorado Capitol featuring music, poetry and artists. A daytime protest in Aurora is planned for Saturday.