Young witness to George Floyd’s murder tells her story of sorrow and growth

Published 4:06 pm Tuesday, October 18, 2022

By Jon Collins, Minnesota Public Radio News

A crowd of bystanders watched helplessly as a Minneapolis police officer took George Floyd’s life in Minneapolis in 2020. One of those watching was just 9 years old, Judeah Reynolds. Now an 11-year-old sixth grader, Judeah has released a children’s book called “A Walk to the Store.” It documents the effect Floyd’s murder had on her and how she’s continuing to move forward.

“I’m too little to walk alone to the store,” Judeah reads to a rapt audience of elementary school students in north Minneapolis Friday. “So I ask everybody in the house, “Will you walk me to the store?”

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Her cousin Darnella Frazier agreed to walk Judeah, with her $3 for candy, to Cup Foods at the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue.

That’s where Judeah watched as George Floyd lost consciousness and stopped moving under Derek Chauvin’s knee. Her cousin recorded the video of Floyd’s murder that went viral.

“We watch a man get killed,” Judeah reads. “We cannot stop it from happening. All we can do is tell what happened.”

Judeah was the youngest bystander at the scene. Her presence was noted repeatedly by judges and attorneys as four ex-cops stood trial in state and federal court in Floyd’s killing. All four former officers are currently serving federal prison sentences. Two of the former officers, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng, are set to go on trial later this month in Hennepin County District Court on charges of aiding and abetting Floyd’s murder.

As told to Sheletta Brundidge and Lily Coyle, Judeah’s story was inspired by a book by Brundidge’s daughter that Judeah read called “Cameron Goes to School’’ in the Urban Ventures reading program.

Brundidge said Judeah’s book purposely doesn’t dwell on the horrific details of Floyd’s murder. There are no images of Derek Chauvin or of Floyd pinned to the ground.

“I didn’t want to relive that trauma for Judeah,” said Brundidge, who has authored three other children’s books. “George Floyd died but the world moved. We moved in the right direction with racial equity and breaking down barriers and systemic things that have been in place for generations. We all moved. I didn’t want her stuck in that spot.”

Instead, Judeah’s story follows her path, from sadness to starting to understand the power she had as a witness of this event. That’s why Brundidge felt it was important for the book to also include a list of ways that parents can help kids through trauma.

“As parents we’re having to explain school shootings [at] football games, and why we’ve got to be careful or what we’ve got to look out for. These kids are going through a lot of trauma,” Brundidge said. “This little girl who people were wondering about, who was in the video, ‘I wonder how she’s doing? I think about her all the time.’ Well, she’s doing fine.”

The drawings by Darcy Bell-Myers of Stillwater show Judeah and her family in bright colors. Judeah wears a blue shirt that says “Love.”

Judeah’s book release was held at Legacy of Dr. Josie R. Johnson Montessori School in north Minneapolis. It’s named for the pioneering Minnesota civil rights advocate, active since the 1950s, who helped pass anti-discrimination laws in the state.

Johnson said it broke her heart when she heard Judeah witnessed Floyd’s killing. But she was hopeful seeing Judeah read to a gym full of children.

“To see her today be able to say she saw and she’s still alive and awake as to what’s going on, and to feel safe and secure, is what our struggle as Black adults is all about,” Johnson said.

Judeah’s father Ronnie Reynolds remembers some hard days after Floyd’s killing. She couldn’t sleep, she was crying all the time. The family moved to Chicago to get some distance. The book release was the first time they’d been back.

“Me and my family left Minneapolis because the tragedy was too much for my little daughter to bear. She didn’t want to go to school, she was scared of police and stuff,” Reynolds said. “And I was like, ‘OK, it’s time to just move away for a while.’”

But Reynolds has watched his daughter grow, get better and gain strength. When he read her book, he said it brought tears to his eyes to see how far she’d come.

Judeah’s book was released on what would have been George Floyd’s 49th birthday. After hearing the book, dozens of children tramped into the parking lot behind the school. They sang “happy birthday,” shouted George Floyd’s name, and released a big red balloon. Brundidge told the kids it would float all the way to Floyd in heaven.

Judeah said most kids she went to school with don’t understand all that happened to her. She wants to share her story with other kids to help make positive change.

“I’m too little to walk alone to the store,” Judeah’s story closes. “But I’m big enough and brave enough to make things better in a very big way.”

The book is published by Beaver’s Pond Press and is available at AWalkToTheStore.com.