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Minneapolis Volunteers Collect Remembrances For George Floyd Permanent Memorial

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

For the past seven months, the space where George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer has remained a shrine full of flowers and handwritten signs. Now, as winter sets in, Megan Burks of Minnesota Public Radio says the community is collecting those offerings for a permanent memorial.

MEGAN BURKS, BYLINE: To get to the convenience store where an employee called the police, suspecting George Floyd was using a counterfeit bill, you'd have to navigate a sea of trinkets and art left in Floyd's honor. The commercial corridor has remained closed since that day in May, when the world watched a disturbing cellphone recording of his arrest and death.

In recent weeks, Jeanelle Austin and several volunteers have been collecting and archiving the offerings, carefully removing dirt or, in today's case, soot. Someone recently tried to destroy the makeshift memorial by setting it on fire. Now Austin has that to deal with.

JEANELLE AUSTIN: I don't know how to do fire conservation.

(LAUGHTER)

AUSTIN: That was not in my high school class this summer. I joke and say I have a high school diploma in conservation because I didn't really know this was a discipline until this summer.

BURKS: Austin's discipline is theology. But after returning to Minneapolis to help her mom as unrest gripped the city, she found herself caring for the growing memorial down the street from her childhood home. Today, she's leading a preservation effort with a goal of creating a permanent memorial in the neighborhood.

AUSTIN: So our process is we bring them in. We have them dried. After they dry, we sort them. And y'all, at any point if I say something wrong, correct me.

BURKS: Austin and others here are getting a crash course from a group of professionally trained art conservators, including Margaret Hill-Kipling. She moved into the neighborhood about a month before it would become the epicenter of the summer's protests.

MARGARET HILL-KIPLING: We moved in the middle of the pandemic, and so we thought that that was going to be the most bizarre thing about a cross-country move. And of course, it ended up not being at all.

BURKS: While Austin is Black, Hill-Kipling and the other volunteer conservators are white. She says it's important for Austin to lead the effort to preserve this bit of history.

HILL-KIPLING: Black experiences have so often been told through this white perspective - and making sure that that doesn't happen here, that it's not white people coming in and taking over and mistelling (ph) the story. We're not here to tell the story. We're here to support the community telling the story.

BURKS: Austin and the Floyd family's vision is not to hand the pieces over to a big museum but to build a permanent exhibit in the community.

AUSTIN: Like, allow these pieces to continue to protest against racial injustice by inspiring people to do the work in their own communities.

AARON BRYANT: We've never really seen anything like this as part of our generation, really.

BURKS: That's Aaron Bryant, a curator at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. He's also collecting items from the protests.

BRYANT: Literally in every part of the globe, there were people protesting George Floyd's death. And I think that says something.

ALI TENNANT: Oh, I remember that one.

BURKS: As they sort through the fire-damaged offerings, Austin and volunteer Ali Tennant are pausing to admire one of the artifacts.

TENNANT: Clearly, kids had done the old macaroni bean art project as a memorial to George Floyd.

BURKS: Austin and Floyd family members recently formed the George Floyd Global Memorial nonprofit to raise money for a permanent Minneapolis exhibit. The curators have already collected nearly 2,500 pieces to display there.

For NPR News, I'm Megan Burks in Minneapolis.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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