About 200 people gathered in Portland on Tuesday night to remember the life of George Floyd, whose murder one year ago by a Minneapolis police officer sparked months of protests and an ongoing reckoning with racial injustice.

Protesters marched through the streets of cities across the country last summer after video footage showed former officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, kneeling on the neck of Floyd, who was Black, for nine minutes while three other officers stood by and watched. Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe, and eventually lost consciousness and died. Chauvin was convicted of murder this year.

The Portland gathering was billed as a Day of Remembrance for Floyd, but it also turned into a moment for those in the crowd, as well as the artists and activists who organized the event, to reflect on a year filled with civil unrest and acts of police violence against people of color. Invited guests sang songs, read poetry, related how Floyd’s death impacted their lives, and even performed a play in front of 749 Congress St., a former gas station that was transformed last summer into a temporary public art project as a statement of outrage over centuries of violence against Black people.

“This event was months in the making. We didn’t want to let this day go by without remembering what happened to George Floyd,” Aminata Conteh, one of the organizers, told the crowd. “We are here to celebrate lives lost as well as those who are living.”

Viva performs a song she titled “Live Like I’m Gonna Die” during the day of remembrance on the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The remembrance was organized by the Indigo Arts Alliance, Maine Inside Out, and a variety of community artists. Indigo Arts Alliance is a community arts organization that supports Black artists and engages in community building. Maine Inside Out is a nonprofit that is dedicated to helping incarcerated youth transform their lives through art and theater.

Performers and activists who spoke Tuesday night said that this is not the time to back away from the changes that are needed to create a just and equitable society. They said their work fighting racial injustice must continue.

‘Tonight, I am filled with anger and grief, but grief can be transformed into power,” said Chiara Liberatore, a member of Maine Inside Out. “We need to find each other and hold on tight.”

Real Genius Black, a recording artist and producer who moved to Portland from Texas, told the gathering about his experience last summer when he marched on city streets with hundreds of other protesters outraged by Floyd’s murder.

“Today, throws me back to last summer. Walking through the streets of Portland with 800 or 900 people. It was a real moment for me,” he recalled, referring to the protests that went on for weeks. “I never felt more supported as a black man in the state of Maine than I did during those protests.”

Real Genius Black said there was an element of danger to the protests, which were closely monitored by police. “Those people were putting their lives and their bodies on the line.”

He warned the crowd that the work to smite racial injustice needs to continue. If movements like Black Lives Matter are successful, it will lead to healing and a greater sense of harmony, he said.

“We’ve got to heal ourselves. Most of us are still not OK, but that’s all right. The work must continue,” Real Genius Black said.

Bruce King and several members of Maine Inside Out, who performed the play “Weeping City,” held an impromptu rally before the start of the remembrance. King said the group talked about Floyd, about the events of the past year, and about their roles in the play. Actors recited lines from the play. All of them wore black T-shirts with the name of a victim of police violence printed on the back, including Breonna Taylor, Philandro Castille and Daunte Wright.

“It’s a somber day of remembrance, but it’s also a day about trying to be true to the moment before us. We need to help others, without being naive” said King, who lives in Brunswick.

Adan Abdi Kadir of Lewiston sings along with musician Viva on Monday in Portland during a remembrance on the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder. Kadir performed at the event with the group Maine Inside Out. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The play was created in 2009 following a fatal police shooting in Portland. It was revived as a call to action to end violence and systemic racism. The 2021 version of the play was adapted and revised by its originator, Nancy Valmond-Bell.

Joseph Jackson, an activist from Lewiston, wore a T-shirt with Castille’s name printed on it.

“We still have a long way to go, but the messages we’ve been sending are starting to resonate with people,” Jackson said. “All of the people who came here tonight are here to see that we make changes.”

After the play ended, Jackson spoke to the crowd.

“Connect to your feelings of passion and anger. Let them call you to action,” Jackson said.

Several political activists spoke near the end of Tuesday’s event, including Skye Gosselin, a member of Maine Youth Justice. She called on the crowd to help Maine Youth Justice in its campaign to shut down the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland. The correctional facility houses juvenile offenders. Maine Youth Justice would prefer the center be converted into housing.

A projection onto the building at 754 Congress St. by artist Dianne Smith is shown during Monday’s remembrance marking the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Ali Abdul, a member of Portland’s Racial Equity Steering Committee, which was created last year to examine systemic racism in Portland’s public safety departments, reminded the crowd that the City Council was scheduled to meet with the committee on June 28 to review its recommendations.

A 65-page report from the Racial Equity Steering Committee, appointed in response to last summer’s protests demanding racial justice, contains a range of recommendations for policing, mental health, housing, employment and even street names. The report was presented to the City Council in April.

The event ended with an outdoor projection arranged by Indigo Arts Alliance’s Artist-in-Residence Dianne Smith. Her projection, “Black Is Beautiful,” explored the impact the Black Lives Matter movement has had on Mainers.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.