As the country acknowledged the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2021, his life was also remembered and honored on Friday, May 28 as a 700 lb. bronze statue of him, created by Utah-based sculptor Stan Watts, was unveiled in the front yard of the Faison Firehouse Theater, located at 6 Hancock Place between Manhattan and Morningside Avenues. The Theatre served as a temporary home until when the statue is moved to its home for 1 year, at the Capitol Rotunda in Newark, New Jersey.
The event was presented by Leon Pinkney—director of the George Floyd Statue Committee and AUDELCO. The Black Theater community came out in full force as Woodie King Jr., founder of New Federal Theatre, was on hand, as were veteran actors Dorothi Fox, Barbara Montgomery, Johnnie Mae, Sirlouis Jones, Andre Dell, and Malika Franklin. Arnold Pinnix, chairman of the National Action Network Arts and Culture Committee, the New York City Chapter, was also in attendance. Several members of AUDELCO’s board of directors were present including its President Jackie Jefferies, along with Toni Peterson, Cherine Anderson and myself. The parents of murdered Black man, Sean Bell, Valerie and William Bell attended the unveiling, as did Victoria Davis, sister of Delrawn Small and Darlene Armstead, the sister of Clifford Glover, all also murdered by police.
Though it was a rainy day, people’s spirits were high as they rejoiced in this beautiful, powerful statue of George Floyd. Sculptor Watts shared, “I believe this one was the one we were going to stop. The world would stop covering up and hiding it.”
Pinkney, who approached Watts about doing this project a year ago, recalled, “After George was
killed, I didn’t want people to forget. I called Stan and talked to him about George Floyd and he said he would do the statue. Stan worked on it for one year and was determined to have it completed in time for the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death and it was. The statue, a $300,000 item, was something that Stan personally financed. He is currently looking for a buyer, but the statue is not meant to be in someone’s home. The statue represents the humanity of George Floyd and to commemorate those who marched. During the pandemic, whites and Blacks marched for Black Lives Matter. The statue is to cause people to reflect. People fell in love with George Floyd, the human. The statue’s job is to change hearts, change minds and unify races. It’s a healing tool.
“Earlier in the week the statue was on display at the National Action Network and people spoke to the statue like George Floyd was alive. People cried because they were so moved by it,” Pinkney said.
Once Pinkney contacted the Floyd family at a rally in Washington, D.C., he showed them photos of the sculpture, as a work in progress. He recalled that Bridgette Floyd, Floyd’s sister, gave her blessing. On Memorial Day Terrence Floyd brought his children and friends to the Faison’s Firehouse Theatre. “He had tears of joy. After seeing the statue he felt as if he was with his brother again. He said the fingers of the statue resembled George Floyd’s,” Pinkney shared.
Pinkney has high hopes for this statue and others to come. “My intention is for there to be 20 of these statues. I don’t want everyone to travel to Newark. I want it close to where people live. We want them in states that will accept him. My hope was one would eventually be at the Harlem State Office Building Plaza. I know this will bring interest and tourists to 125th Street. A lot of businesses are closed. It would also be protected at that location,” Pinkney said.
Woodie King Jr. stated, “George Floyd has changed the thinking of Black America. That thinking was not pre-planned until they saw the knee of Chauvin on his neck and he said, ‘I can’t breathe.’ Out of that comes this piece of art. And we need plays to depict it. This unveiling is being done at a Black Theatre, George Faison Firehouse. I’m glad to be here.”
Faison was very passionate as he said, “We are the artists, we are standing here. We want to encourage people to come out here and view this…George is hope.” Discussing the reason he wanted the statue to have a temporary home in the front yard of the Faison Firehouse Theatre, Faison added, “I wanted it here because of my social consciousness and my moral compass. I lived through all this with King, Kennedy and Malcolm X. I grew up in D.C.; we watched the murders every week. I’m tired of this.”
Sharing her creative abilities, actress Barbara Montgomery created a poem commemorating the significance of George Floyd’s life and death to her. She performed it as part of the pre-unveiling ceremony and it was absolutely moving. “I came because of my love for George Floyd and my appreciation of any artist that holds George in the high place,” stated the veteran actress.