Hundreds gather at MUSC to honor the memory of George Floyd and call for justice

June 10, 2020
Nurse Narkarsha Prioleau kneels for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time George Floyd lay dying under a white policeman's knee. Photos by Sarah Pack
Nurse Narkarsha Prioleau kneels for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time George Floyd lay dying as a white policeman kept his knee on Floyd's neck. Photos by Sarah Pack

On a warm June Wednesday at noon, between 300 and 400 people gathered on a lawn at the Medical University of South Carolina to honor the memory of George Floyd. They wore masks and were asked to maintain social distance to keep the coronavirus from spreading. Similar events took place at hospitals throughout MUSC Health’s Regional Hospital Network.

Charleston organizer Marvella Ford, Ph.D., said MUSC needed the gathering. “Because we’re all experiencing this pain in different ways. Because the structural, systemic injustices affect all of us. And so when something like a murder that we saw on television happens, that is indicative of the ongoing systemic problems with the police force in the country, with educational systems, with health care systems, it affects all of us.”

Ford is a professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences, the associate director of Population Sciences and Cancer Disparities at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center and the endowed chair in Cancer Disparities at South Carolina State University. She prepared the crowd to spend 8 minutes and 46 seconds in silence. That’s the length of time Floyd, who was African American, lay dying on a Minneapolis street as a white policeman kept a knee on his neck. Floyd’s death was captured on video.

Dr. Michael De Arellano, Dr. Marvella Ford (center) and Dr. Willette Burnham Williams lead the George Floyd event. 
Dr. Marvella Ford speaks as Dr. Michael de Arellano and Dr. Willette Burnham-Williams stand with her, leading the George Floyd demonstration at MUSC.

“When we get up from kneeling, sitting or standing is when our work will continue. When we get up, we will continue with action,” Ford said through a megaphone. “Today is the first step of our journey. Many of us have been on this journey for a long time. We ask you when you get up after kneeling, sitting or standing, get involved to ensure there’s diversity at every level of every institution of this country.”

The crowd included fellow organizer James Tolley, M.D., an assistant professor emeritus. “MUSC has a large stature in Charleston. And we have been, over the years, making strides to increase diversity on campus and in the community,” he said. 

“I’m a graduate of this institution. I was around at the time of the 1969 hospital strike –I was in high school. So I watched the efforts over the years. I would like to help continue promoting the understanding of underrepresented people in medicine, in promoting folks being treated correctly. As the former E.R. director of Charleston Memorial, one of my missions was to ensure everyone was treated with respect. MUSC has embraced that. This is a good sign to show we continue to embrace treating everyone with respect.”

Crowd at George Floyd event. 
Despite the heat, the noon event drew a crowd from across the MUSC campus to honor the memory of George Floyd and other African Americans who have been killed.

During the 8-plus minutes of quiet, only the buzz of air conditioners and helicopters bringing patients to MUSC Health could be heard.

Kevin Kerley, director of Public Safety at MUSC, was part of the gathering. “I wanted to make everybody realize that the actions of one or even a handful of cops doesn’t reflect the attitude of everybody else. I’m here basically to support the university and support everybody who’s out here because I understand this was wrong,” he said, referring to Floyd’s death. “There’s no way to defend what happened. I’m supporting everybody who’s out here, and I want to be part of it, part of the change.

People tried to practice social distancing and wore masks to try to prevent the coronavirus from spreading while they protested the death of George Floyd. 
People knelt, sat and stood as they were able.

Channing Sherman, a web content producer for MUSC, was there, too. He’s been working from home during the pandemic but grabbed a mask and came to campus for the Floyd event. “One, I wanted to see the crowd for myself. And two, I just think it’s good to let people see the support. You want people to know this isn’t just some blip on the radar. It’s not just a fad. So if I can show up and let people see how big this crowd is and that it’s time for a change, I was all for it.”

Ford said the event, put together by the MUSC Black Faculty Group, was a chance to highlight the importance of bringing together people of different backgrounds to work toward common goals. “We want diversity and inclusion. We need it. That’s what’s made MUSC as great as it is. We’re not perfect, but we’ve come a long way at this institution, and we need to show a united front to stand up for justice. And that’s what I see today.”

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