Moving Toward Healing and Forgiveness in the Aftermath of George Floyd's Death and the Conviction of Derek Chauvin

By Jessica Johnson

April 23, 2021 5 min read

"God knew how much we could bear. This is a turning point. Let's continue to correct everything that stands against love. That is true #justice." — Reverend Bernice A. King

Reverend Bernice A. King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., posted this tweet shortly after the verdict was reached in the Derek Chauvin trial. In imploring us to fight against the vices that incessantly strive to defy love, King was speaking through the wisdom of her father, who told us, "(h)ate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." Nearly a year ago, our country watched Floyd agonizingly suffocate to death as Chauvin held his knee on Floyd's neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. The country erupted into both rage and grief, which was exacerbated by the afflictions of the coronavirus pandemic. Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck is a gruesome visual none of us will forget. Floyd pleaded for his life while his face was pinned to the street, mustering up the strength to utter, "I can't breathe."

The nation collectively held its breath waiting for the jurors' decision in Chauvin's trial, a deliberation that extended over one day, which found him guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. As Chauvin awaits sentencing, the calls for healing abound in Minneapolis and throughout America, but fatal police shootings continue to occur, with the recent killing of 16-year-old Ma'Khia Bryant rocking Columbus, Ohio. As Bryant's shooting is being probed by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Chauvin is being brought to justice, we still find ourselves asking the same question: How do we move forward from this "turning point" that Bernice King declared? She gave us the answer, just as her father would have, in that we must press on in love. And I would humbly add that in progressing in love, we must also forgive.

In one of my columns on Floyd last year, I wrote about how we need to be the extremists for love that Martin Luther King Jr. passionately advocated in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." I thought about King's ardent appeal again when reading about Rep. Barbara Lee and Sen. Cory Booker's call for the establishment of a formal Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Commission to study institutionalized racism and the historical disenfranchisement of African Americans. Lee and Booker introduced a resolution for this commission last December, citing Floyd's death and disparities in "environmental, economic, health, and social institutions" as the primary factors for its proposal. "As a nation, we must acknowledge and grapple with the systemic racism and white supremacy that have been with us since our country's founding and continues to persist in our laws, our policies and our lives to this day," Booker said. Lee followed up by stating, "A painful and dangerous legacy of white supremacy lingers in our country, and we cannot begin healing until we fully acknowledge and understand how that legacy facilitates inequality today." I believe most in our nation agree that we need to heal racially as a people; however, the healing and transformation that is desperately desired can only be accomplished through forgiveness. Legislation like Booker and Lee's is needed as far as governance is concerned, but the brilliant commission they are recommending cannot transform people's hearts.

Forgiveness was a fundamental pillar of the civil rights movement, as King taught that "(f)orgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a constant attitude." Bernice King implied in her tweet that God heard the cries for Floyd to receive justice. We need to pray that we can find it in our hearts to forgive those who perpetrate the racism and prejudice that fortifies the ongoing inequity and racial strife we continue to confront. We need to pray for and forgive Derek Chauvin. I am reminded of the compassion and forgiveness Nadine Collier, the daughter of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting victim Ethel Lance, showed to Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who killed her mother and eight others at a Bible study in 2015. It is the power of forgiveness shown through the love of God that will get our country to the place of racial healing in the aftermath of Floyd's death, the "#justice" that can mend the deep wounds of bigotry entrenched in our nation's soul.

Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at Ohio State University's Lima campus. Email her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @JjSmojc. To find out more about Jessica Johnson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: Taymaz Valley

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