Mama … Mama … alright … alright … Oh my God …I can’t believe this … I can’t believe this man … Mama I love you … Tell my kids I love them … I’m dead … Please man … I can’t breathe … Oh my God … My neck …I’m claustrophobic … Everything hurts … Please … Please … Please sir … Please … Please … Please … I can’t breathe
These are some of George Floyd’s last words which could be seen Thursday evening, in their entirety, scrolling silently up the theater wing wall of the Memorial Union.
The event was hosted by the Wisconsin Union Directorate (WUD) Art Committee in tandem with the President and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County, Michael Johnson.
The student-led committee organized the event with Johson after seeing his Facebook post urging the Madison community to find a location to display Floyd’s final words. Similar presentations of Floyd’s last words have been displayed in other cities across the country.
“When I saw the transcript of Mr.Floyd’s last words, it literally shook my soul,” Johnson said. “While some of the protests have died down, we want to make sure that [George Floyd] is remembered.”
The event featured multiple speakers from a new community organization, The Coalition of Black Men in Dane County, including their president and founder, Corey Marionneaux, who read Floyd’s final words aloud in their entirety.
Marionneaux noted that The Coalition of Black Men in Dane County, although in its infancy, is hoping to heal the damage systemic racism has done to the Black community by providing individuals with economic and emotional support.
“A lot of people have a lot of pain and mental hurt that they are not aware of. We are hoping to be [a part of the] healing process,” Marionneaux said.
Several of the speakers, including Inspire Barber and Beauty Salon owner and Coalition of Black Men in Dane County member, Brian Britt, were deeply moved by Floyd’s final words, commenting on the consistent level of respect Floyd gave Officer Derek Chauvin during his final moments.
“The thing that truly sticks out to me is the respect he gave the office by saying ‘please sir,'” Britt said.
However, Britt and Marionneaux both expressed their mixed feelings towards Floyd’s respect, noting that despite all the respect Floyd showed and the expected responsibility of Officer Derek Chauvin to “protect and serve,” Floyd was still murdered.
Another coalition member, Alan Robinson, spoke through tears, as he expressed over the numerous occasions of violence against the Black community by the police.
“The trauma of consistently witnessing murder coupled with injustice is perfectly encapsulated by the words ‘I can’t breath’…at some point, we are all going to have to take a breath,” Robinson said.
Natalia Lugovskaya, the director of the WUD Art Committee, explained that action among students is pivotal in ending injustice.
“We as students have a moral responsibility to stand in solidarity with Black community members especially when we don’t see that response from the administration.”
Lugovskaya further noted that art as a form of expression, such as this event, is also an essential part of communicating the injustices faced by marginalized groups.
“[Art] is a way for us to see and feel perspectives that we may have not experienced but art makes it more accessible…art has the power to heal and promote tough conversations like this,” Lugovskaya said.
Thursday’s event is a precursor to a new art installation opening up at Union South titled “WE STILL HERE” by photographer Kenechi Unachukwu. The exhibit will feature Black Lives Matter protest photography from the past four months.
The installation will be on display at Union South starting Friday, October 9 through November 20.
“[This exhibit] is really about humanizing these struggles and making sure that we do not forget that these people are real and that black lives matter,” Lugovskaya said.