ROCHESTER, Minn. — Paris Stevens, George Floyd's cousin, wept tears of joy and relief April 20 when ex-Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin was declared guilty of murder and manslaughter charges by a 12-member jury.
Stevens was in a Minneapolis hotel ballroom with other relatives the day the verdict was read. An immense burden was lifted, Stevens said. It had been such a long journey.
"It's been a lot for the family to deal with," Stevens said. "Who knows if we've actually grieved or not. I don't know if I really have."
Chauvin became the first white police officer in Minnesota to be charged and convicted in the death of a Black civilian.
And Stevens is convinced there wouldn't have been a trial, much less guilty verdicts, if not for the video taken by Darnella Frazier, a then-17-year-old bystander who recorded Chauvin pressing his knee into Floyd's neck for 9 minutes.
On the witness stand during the trial, Frazier testified to the guilt she feels for not doing more to help Floyd, but Stevens says the video was the irrefutable proof that led to Chauvin's conviction.
"With the verdict, there's a glimmer of hope," Stevens said.
"I think her video was the key to everything. I haven't had the the chance to meet her, but I would definitely want to thank her for being courageous," Steven said. "I know it had to be scary."
Stevens was an apolitical person for much of her life. That all changed after Floyd's death. Suddenly, she — and other family members — found themselves swept up in a whirlwind that has altered their lives.
In addition to making multiple trips to Minneapolis from her Charlotte, N.C., home, Stevens has made stops in Rochester. She has been a guest on Barbershop Talk of South Minnesota, a forum for Black voices and concerns. Stevens was also present for the unveiling of a mural of Floyd created by Rochester graphic artist Lee Green. Stevens and Green were high school classmates in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
"I feel more obliged to fight for what's right. Get out there and speak my voice," Stevens said. "A lot of African Americans — we've been conditioned to accept racism. You don't want to rock the boat or cause any confrontation."
Stevens channels her activism into the George Floyd Global Memorial Fund. Established by Stevens and others, the idea is to create a cultural arts center in the block where Floyd died, decorated by the murals, posters, letters and statues created in anguish over his death and in solidarity for racial justice.
"It's actually very beautiful and moving," Stevens said about the artistic offerings and pop-up gallery already there.
Stevens' memories of Floyd were as teenagers growing up in North Carolina. Their families would see each other during family reunions and holidays. Both were big sports fans. Floyd talked about going to the NBA and she to the WNBA.
These days, Stevens finds it essential to stay busy, as a mom, a nurse, an advocate, and a back-to-school student. Mourning the death of a family member or relative is always shattering. It is in the quiet moments that Stevens is haunted by the viral video recording of Floyd's last moments. She is certain the bystanders who witnessed his death "will never forget" and "probably need counseling."
"I stay busy a lot. When you have a lot of down time, in the middle of the night, that's when things get difficult," Stevens said.
Floyd, a person she knew as a teenager, has become a global iconic figure in death, a symbol of the pursuit of racial justice.
"He was a very humble person, but he wanted to be a person that could take care of everyone. And with this happening, unfortunately, it catapulted him to just that. With his death, he did change the world — for the purpose of re-opening the eyes of the world," she said.