Thousands are gathering in Houston this week to honor George Floyd before he's laid to rest alongside his mother in Pearland. People who never knew him lined up in the Texas heat to view his body Monday and his family will hold a private funeral Tuesday.
One person who knew George Floyd as a young boy was his second grade teacher, Waynel Sexton. She told Houston Public Media how she remembers the 8-year-old she taught at Frederick Douglass Elementary in Third Ward and what his death in police custody means to her.
Click the audio for the full interview, or read excerpts below, edited for length and clarity.
Sexton: I didn’t know the adult Perry. And I call him Perry because that’s what we called him, George, I should say.
HPM: Could you share a little bit more with me about what you remember from him — what he was like, as an 8-year-old boy?
Sexton: He was a happy boy. He was quiet. He enjoyed school, he enjoyed his friends. And you know, he wrote that he wanted to be a Supreme Court justice. I keep one major project from each class here and I taught for 27 years.
HPM: Would you be able to read part of what he wrote?
Sexton: Sure, I framed a copy of it to take to his family. “Future famous American. When I grow up, I want to be a Supreme Court Judge. When people say, ‘Your Honor, he did rob the bank.’ I will say, ‘Be seated’ and if he doesn’t, I will tell the guards to take him out and I will beat my hammer on the desk and everybody will be quiet.” And I thought that was so delightful that from a 8-year-old perspective, that’s what a Supreme Court judge does. During Black History Month, we studied a different famous black American. And Perry was impressed by Thurgood Marshall, and his work on behalf of education for children. This was his aspiration after hearing that.
HPM: What else do you see in his writing?
Sexton: Certainly the irony that he wrote about justice in a way about a person who’s going to who’s going to work with justice or deal out justice. And that his death has been the exact opposite of justice. So just the irony of it. That’s what struck me because I didn’t remember what he had written until I opened up the book and I found his writing and and it was just beautiful to me.
HPM: When you connected that this man who died in Minneapolis in police custody in that video and then you realize that it was Perry Floyd, the boy that you taught in second grade, what went through your mind?
Sexton: Anyone watching that video had to be just appalled, and then when I knew it was Perry, it was just this deep, devastating sadness and anger, too — that it was so unnecessary.
HPM: There’s been calls about racial inequality, not just with police but also in other aspects of our society, including schools. As a veteran teacher, what do you think could be done to improve equality in schools?
Sexton: We can do so much better. I spent my whole life working through literacy to bring equality, because I always felt that if I could teach all my children to read and to read well, that it would open a door, that it would be a gateway for them. And so I think that we just need more training. And clearly now, we all need more training in how to better serve our boys and girls.