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“He’s going to change the world.”

The poignant eulogy to George Floyd delivered by his brother Rodney on Tuesday is already at least partially true, although how deep and enduring that change is will be decided by future struggles.

In a span of mere days, the death of a black man with a white policeman’s knee on his neck became a parable in America’s aching racial story and a rallying point for action that resonated far beyond Minnesota, where he died, and disrupted politics, business, culture and sports. Floyd’s impact has spanned continents — sparking debate and reflections across the Atlantic in Europe.

Barely known outside his own circle, Floyd suddenly became the most famous man in the world, shouldering the pain of the racially oppressed everywhere with his dying words, “I can’t breathe.” Yet he will never know of his fame nor perceive the change he has wrought.

George Floyd’s high school friend

George Floyd's high school friend Jonathan Veal.
George Floyd’s high school friend Jonathan Veal

Jonathan Veal met George Floyd in the sixth grade, but the two didn’t really become close until high school.

Veal told that in 11th grade, Floyd said “he wanted to touch the world.”

“It’s hard to wrap your mind around the weight of that statement at 17 years old,” Veal recounted in an interview .”

Veal said he was reminded of that moment when recently saw an Instagram post of Floyd’s from when he was alive in which he said “don’t count big Floyd out, I’m going to touch the world.”

“It was like that comment back in 11th grade was almost prophetic in nature, to see now he is literally having a global impact — he is touching remote parts of the world — it’s pretty awesome. We just hate that it had to come in this respect.

Veal said at Floyd’s funeral today, he struggled to find a moment to personally grieve his friend, but took solace in the fact that his pain was shared by so many.

“This guy you have known for so long and you want to celebrate him in almost a private moment. But you have to share him with the world. And so, just seeing the energy and emotions that were out there, it was almost difficult for me to celebrate and be able to bid a  farewell to my life long friend.

A global symbol

There are plenty of reasons to doubt Rodney Floyd’s prediction.

The country’s hopelessly fractured politics and past recoils against moments when racial progress was forged offer cautionary lessons. Yet when civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis comments that he’s never seen such racially mixed crowds marching for justice, as more white citizens than ever before walk metaphorically in the shoes of their African American brethren, it’s clear a mystical political force is in play.

In an odd way, Floyd’s death is also a sign of the country’s undiminished cultural relevance abroad, despite an “America First” President who has alienated many of its friends.

In France, Floyd’s death has shifted policies that many instances of police brutality toward French people of color could not. Chokeholds used by arresting officers are now banned. Floyd’s suddenly ubiquitous face peers out from murals in Kenya, the West Bank and, in a historical confluence hinting at the power of change, from a preserved section of the Berlin Wall. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrestled for 21 mute seconds when asked to comment on the sight of security forces driving away protesters ahead of a President Donald Trump photo op outside an iconic Washington church.

In another, apparently random but ultimately connected act, marchers gathered at Oxford University to demand the removal of a statue of fervent imperialist Sir Cecil Rhodes, who gave his name to US Rhodes scholarships. The program will now surely need a rebranding.

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