Photo courtesy of Spring Valley NAACP chapter

By Sam Bojarski

The death of George Floyd hit home for Eudson Tyson Francois, as it did for so many black people throughout the United States. 

“That’s the first time when I felt like that was me on the ground. I felt like that was me, and I’ve heard a lot of people say that,” said Francois, a Haitian-American who serves as a trustee for the village of Spring Valley.

Floyd was killed in Minneapolis while in police custody, after an officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. 

On the evening of June 4, the Spring Valley NAACP chapter will hold a vigil for George Floyd at the village’s Memorial Park. According to Francois, a member of the NAACP chapter, the vigil will show respect for the black community, as well as members of the Floyd family, and call for justice. Some of Floyd’s extended family, including a first cousin, live in Spring Valley. 

The candlelight vigil will take place from 6-8 p.m. and feature several speakers from churches throughout southeastern New York. Attendees from the community are encouraged to wear black. 

Members of the NAACP’s young adult committee planned the event.

“They range from age 18 to like 40, and so they came up with the idea and said ‘well, we’ve had a protest march here and in Nyack, but you know we haven’t dealt with the grieving aspect, and can we do something pertaining to that?’ And so it came alive,” said Willie Trotman, president of the NAACP Spring Valley chapter. 

Last week, Wendell Floyd, a first cousin to George Floyd, helped lead a peaceful march at Memorial Park on May 30, one of multiple protests that have taken place in Rockland County. 

Pastors scheduled to speak at the June 4 vigil include Darwin Abraham from State Street AME Zion Church in Hudson, Teresa Darden of Upper Room House of Worship in Spring Valley, Brandon McLauchlin of St. Charles AME Zion Church in Sparkill and Owen Thompson of Grace Episcopal Church in Nyack. 

NAACP Regional Director Wilbur Albridge and three members of Floyd’s extended family are scheduled to speak at the event, and the NAACP has invited members of the Spring Valley police department to speak as well. Youth from the community will provide poetry and music. 

“Unity and what can we do” will be the theme for the evening, Trotman added. 

Francois, who also serves as a police commissioner along with the other Spring Valley trustees, offered his own ideas for improving policing, at a time when hundreds of thousands nationwide are protesting unchecked police violence against black people. 

Earlier this year, Francois joined the race to represent New York’s 38th state Senate district and hopes to become the first black, Haitian-American to hold the office. 

While the Spring Valley police do a “great job,” Francois said he would like to see officers undergo ethics training. Spring Valley, he said, could also benefit from hiring more officers who live in the community, to better represent residents. 

The police force in Spring Valley has taken steps toward becoming more diverse, said Francois, noting that two of the three officers hired in the last six months are females of Haitian descent, while one is Latino.  

In Spring Valley, a village of more than 32,200 people, roughly 36 percent of residents identify as black or African-American. About 6,000 Haitians live in Spring Valley, making it home to the second-largest concentration of Haitians in the U.S. 

“The coming together in harmony and unity, you know, will speak volumes,” Francois said of the community vigil. 

“Our officers will be there. They’ll be there to show their concern for what took place and (that) they care, you know, it hurts,” he added, in reference to George Floyd’s death. “Doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white, that (video) hurts when you see it.”

Sam is a reporter for The Haitian Times and a 2020 Report for America fellow. He has covered Haiti and its diaspora since 2018. His work has also appeared in USA Today, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Haiti Liberte. Sam can be reached at sam@haitiantimes.com or on Twitter @sambojarski.

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