By Gunther Simmermacher
Catholic News Service
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) — In a “farewell letter,” a bishop from Botswana recalled meeting and befriending George Floyd and his family on a visit to the United States.
Bishop Frank Nubuasah of Gaborone, Botswana, said he met Floyd in the early 1990s at a baseball game in Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, when Floyd was on a trip there.
Floyd, who was unarmed, died May 25 after being pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer during an arrest. His death triggered protests and riots in the United States.
The Ghana-born bishop said Floyd was “barely 20” when they met, before the Divine Word priest was appointed a bishop in Botswana.
In his letter, which addresses Floyd directly, the bishop recalled: “You came wearing blue jeans, T-shirt, a cap on, holding a huge paper cup filled with Coke in one hand and a bag of popcorn in the other. … We got to chatting and become friends.”
Bishop Nubuasah said he cherished Floyd’s “very infectious smile.”
“It was as if the coronavirus learned from you how to infect people,” the bishop joked.
“Your heart was very big and accommodated people. It was always OK with you to reach out to one more person. Yes, you would run a mile for anyone.”
The letter, dated June 4, was released through the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
Noting that his letter would be “my last communication with you in this ‘land of the living’ that rejected your right to live,” Bishop Nubuasah asked: “How can I forget you, George?”
“Your distinctive features are a large nose and thick lips; very African traits. I know, you always reminded me that you are not African but African American. Both backgrounds were important for you, and you did not want to lose any. You were standing solidly with both feet in two traditions. Between these feet of yours was a lot of water called the Atlantic Ocean. You never got to cross it,” the 70-year-old bishop wrote.
“My heart is heavy as I sit in my prayer corner to write you this missive, knowing well that others will read it but you will not. We humans, through a representative of ours, made sure that your eyes were closed and would not open again,” the bishop wrote.
But, he added, “your eyes will remain forever, seeing the fire you started at death.”
“The revolution that your sacrificial death inspired and the new movements and alliances against racism, classism and discrimination are growing. You lit a fire that is burning for peace and change,” Bishop Nubuasah wrote.
“So, my friend, when you hear the chant, ‘Yes, we can,’ know that we are doing it in your name and for you. Gone, but very much here! On the mother continent we would call you ‘the living dead.'”
Speaking of his own reaction to the killing of Floyd, the bishop wrote: “Right now, I am angry because I am human and never thought humans can stoop so low” as the officers who have been charged in connection to Floyd’s death.
But the bishop also remembered happy memories he had of his friendship with the Floyds.
“I recall the vacation I spent with you and your folks. (Younger Floyd brother) Quincy was a baby boy at the time,” he wrote.
“What great BBQs we enjoyed in the summer evenings. I thought we in Southern Africa eat a lot of meat, but, boy, you love your rare steak,” Bishop Nubuasah wrote, echoing a culinary theme that was highlighted at Floyd’s memorial service in Minneapolis June 5.
The bishop also recalled attending a soccer game with Floyd — “a real football game, not the American version.”
“Oh, yes, you were bored to the bone. You wanted your version of the game. I remember trying to educate you that the world governing body is called FIFA and not FISA, when you referred to football as soccer.”
Bishop Nubuasah noted that Floyd had plans to visit Africa.
“I had suggested that you attend the Pan-African cultural festival … in Ghana, and then come over to beautiful Botswana to visit with me,” he wrote. “I was going to take you see wildlife in their natural habitat, not a zoo. You were to visit a cattle post and a ‘masimo’ (plowing field), and enjoy our coveted delicacy of pounded meat, ‘seswaa.'”
The bishop told Floyd in his letter, “you just have one more task to perform. It is to prepare to welcome the notorious four who killed you into heaven when their time does come and show ’em round the jolly place we call heaven.”
“I will miss you George. You can now breathe eternally the breath of love. Rest in Peace,” he concluded.
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Simmermacher is editor of The Southern Cross in Cape Town.