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Cincinnati clergy see change in hearts and minds -- but not policy -- since George Floyd's death

'Not what has changed but who has changed'
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Posted at 6:00 PM, May 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-25 18:04:02-04

CINCINNATI — One year since the death of George Floyd, faith leaders in Cincinnati haven’t seen the policy or funding changes they hoped for, but they have seen a change in hearts and minds.

"I think that the bigger question is not what has changed but who has changed,” said Lesley E. Jones, senior pastor at Truth and Destiny United Church of Christ. “And I think that that is paramount to all of this. While we have wanted policy and structural change, and I do believe that those changes are coming, I think that what had to happen was that people had to change - the hearts, the minds, ideals of people."

Jones said it was that video -- the almost nine minutes of former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck -- that tapped into people’s hearts and opened them up to conversations that they wouldn’t have had before this.

Tuesday marked one year since Floyd's deadly encounter with law enforcement.

"That's the bigger piece of this because the hearts and minds of people have changed and some people who wouldn't sometimes take a meeting with me, now will take a meeting,” Jones said. "People who thought that the work that I do, as an advocate and a social justice fighter out here, is I'm always fighting and some people would say you're a race peddler.

"But it's not about that when there's injustices that really are happening."

Dan Weyand-Geise, pastor at the First United Church of Christ, said he’s seeing that same openness expressed by members at his church.

"As one of my members of the church who is African-American said, it's like since Floyd, it's like white folks are listening finally,” Weyand-Geise said. "The (things) that we've been talking about are for real."

University of Cincinnati clergy Alice Horner said for many, watching the George Floyd video made racial injustice real, so real they could feel it in their bodies.

But she also said just watching the video isn’t enough.

"I think there are lots of people who woke up when they saw that moment,” Horner said. "I also don't want us to pat ourselves on the back, particularly as white people for saying oh look a bunch of us saw it, it's all good now because it's really not good."

Drew Smith, senior pastor at the College Hill Presbyterian Church, works with Weyand-Geise and is seeing racial justice become more prevalent in conversations he’s having in his community, as well.

"It has moved the conversation and even the activity a notch or two, at least from my context from racial reconciliation to racial justice. It has moved from the personal to maybe the systemic,” Smith said. "Dan and I were just in a meeting with a group of ministers and our community, our urban community redevelopment corporation and just talking about what we are doing about affordable housing, what are we doing about inclusion in the projects.”

Gene Ellington at the Constellation Baptist Church in College Hill said beyond awareness, very little has changed in Cincinnati since George Floyd’s death.

"Cincinnati has had a collaborative agreement that really should have been refreshed even long before George Floyd was killed, and yet we've been met with resistance in getting that refreshed," Ellington said. “We have a consent decree that is about to be expired and there are efforts to let that consent decree expire. I think we've seen very little change since George Floyd’s death."