Waynel Sexton remembers Floyd as the 8-year-old she taught at Frederick Douglass Elementary in Third Ward, 38 years ago.
"My daddy changed the world... Daddy changed the world," said 6-year-old Gianna proudly looking around at the scores of demonstrators gathered around. George Floyd's death in police custody set in motion a nationwide movement against racism that sent ripples across the world. Calls for justice for Floyd and the countless others before him who'd suffered a similar fate came from far and wide while America reluctantly faced just how deep racism runs in the country. As Gianna said, Floyd changed the world and according to his second-grade teacher, he always had dreams to make a change.
Waynel Sexton remembers Floyd as the 8-year-old she taught at Frederick Douglass Elementary in Third Ward, 38 years ago. She recently shared an essay written by him at the time, revealing he aspired to become a Supreme Court justice. Speaking to Houston Public Media about young Floyd—or Perry as she knew him—Sexton said, "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."
"One of my favorite memories of Perry involves his report for Black History Month. Each day in the month of February, we studied a different famous Black American, and as a culmination to that study, I posed the question to my students: How will you impact the future? What will you do to make a difference? So in response, each student wrote a story or an essay called 'Future Famous Americans' and described their aspirations," she explained in a recent CNN interview.
Sexton then proceeded to read out Floyd's essay: "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 guard to take him out. Then I will beat my hammer on the desk. Then [everybody] will be quiet."
Mr. Floyd may not have become a Supreme Court judge, but I believe he will be remembered forever as the man who changed America for the better. His murder has lit a fire around the world and there is no going back. #BlackLivesMatter— SusanAnn Martin (@ouachitawoman) June 4, 2020
Explaining why she held on to Floyd's essay for nearly four decades, Sexton said, "Each year, my class would do 2 or 3 big, major projects and I always kept one of those projects. And often it was this Black history project because I always asked the boys and girls what they wanted to be when they grew up. This was often the project I kept. So I don’t only have Perry’s work. I taught at Douglass for 24 years, and so I have hundreds of papers." Reflecting on the words of an 8-year-old Floyd and his death in police custody, she said she couldn't help but notice "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 it was just beautiful to me," Sexton added. "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."
George Floyd’s 2nd grade teacher shared that he wanted to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice after he was inspired by Thurgood Marshall. Justice Marshall was my inspiration too. Let’s all committ to pursuing justice and equality for those who are marginalized in George’s name. pic.twitter.com/M0WfZmhRE3— Howard Stevenson (@hlstevenson2) June 8, 2020