George Floyd memorial
SHARING STORIES - Community members gathered in Town Plaza Park May 25 for a memorial event three years after the death of George Floyd. (Courtesy of Folake Phillips)

Michael Popoola, who currently lives in Morgan Hill but used to live along Blossom Hill Road, arrived in Town Plaza Park, May 25, for a community memorial three years after the death of George Floyd.

The volunteer with social justice nonprofit AWỌ Center said he was excited to get to trade stories with other community members about how the death of the Black man in Minneapolis ultimately ended up impacting their lives.

“It’s just important to connect with people, share experiences, and learn from other people, as well,” he said. “I’m looking forward to hearing from other folks and sharing my experience from over the last 2-3 years.”

Event organizer Folake Phillips, founder and executive director of AWỌ Center, took a break from setting up to explain the purpose of the gathering.

“I think marches are one thing, and I support them,” she said. “You get people organized and galvanized to take action—that’s what they do.”

George Floyd shrine
Madonna Camel set up a temporary shrine to George Floyd. (Courtesy of Folake Phillips)

But at this point, she said, it’s important to continue to find ways to incorporate ideals into lasting policy changes.

That’s why she arranged for Sharika Gregory, a motivational speaker from Oakland, to facilitate a healing circle.

“She’s also going to be empowering people to take the next step in their lives,” she said. “It’s very important that Los Gatos has that kind of space where people can come together and feel welcome.”

Phillips says she’s been trying to find constructive ways to combat problems with racism that have cropped up in town, such as the swastikas that were discovered at multiple locations in Los Gatos, in 2021.

She says she was personally very inspired by the story of George Floyd’s life.

“His life was taken right when he was starting to do something good and impact people,” she said. “He was starting to do a lot of work in his community.”

George Floyd's face on a canvass
The event included the painting of George Floyd’s bust on canvass. (Courtesy of Folake Phillips)

Community member Brian Smith donated coffee, cream and sugar.

Orisha priestess Madonna Camel, of Santa Cruz County, set up a sunflower shrine to Floyd.

Former Planning Commissioner Jeffrey Suzuki, a Los Gatos Anti-Racism Coalition member, and Jahmal C. Williams, a San Jose racial justice advocate, were among the attendees who spoke during the event.

Organizers estimated around 40-45 people participated.

“People were very thankful and appreciative,” said Phillips after the event. “Our objective is to bridge gaps and make sure that dialogue is happening.”

One of the most unique moments came when Gregory handed out miniature scrolls on which they could write a “Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of Self.”

Phillips said it was nice to see people taking the commitment exercise seriously.

“I know that I’m not alone in the belief that we have to have this conversation to move forward in a better way, to find different ways of doing things—rather than being in cultural silos,” she said. “It takes one organization at a time, or one person at a time.”

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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