BY ELAINE KLAASSEN
The day before Easter, 2021, I went to George Floyd Square to meet with Marquise Bowie, a member of Agape, and Marcia Sanoden, a “make-the-world-a-better-place” reader of Southside Pride, to talk about her offer to volunteer at Agape and what that might encompass. But we didn’t sit around talking. Marquise said she could start right now – and so could I. We could go out into the square with him as he welcomed visitors. He had been doing this since George Floyd Square was closed to traffic and he felt that a lot of those interesting, valuable, meaningful conversations were being lost, so he asked both of us to take notes, which we did.
Marquise introduces himself, “Hi, I’m Marquise. I’m with Agape. Agape means love in Greek. We’re out here to spread love … We’re turning street energy into community energy … We’re trying to spread love out here.” He gives everyone a flyer about Agape
Manuela is from Minneapolis. “This makes me want to cry … I feel very comfortable here,” she says.
Marquise tells her little boy, “Tie your shoe …” and then gives him a sucker. Marquise is carrying a bag of suckers that reaches from his waist almost to the ground.
Many of the people Marquise talks to have been watching Chauvin’s trial. Two women from St. Louis Park declare, “It should be first-degree murder. Chauvin should be in jail forever.”
I’m surprised Marquise doesn’t echo their sentiment. He says, “We extend mercy, he’s a human being … Naturally he has to be accountable … If he can be rehabilitated and learn …” But I shouldn’t have been surprised, since one of the things I’ve known about Marquise since we met is the prominence of his Christian faith.
Many people talk to Marquise about the importance of this place and its capacity to mark the point when the comatose conscience of this nation was awakened.
A family from South Dakota says, “ … This is beautiful. A roundabout would be great – let it be an inconvenience – so we don’t ever forget!”
Marquise says he would like to see a permanent memorial and a roundabout, keeping the fist. He agreed, “We don’t want people to forget. Over the past 10 to 11 months, we’ve seen God turn a mess into a message. We don’t leave – we try to make it better.”
Marquise flirts with some dazzling young women who look like rock stars. He playfully asks for their autographs.
One is from California, Autefeh, and the other from North Carolina, Ebone, but they’ve lived in Minneapolis since before George Floyd was killed. They are training to be surgeons. Ebone was working at HCMC in trauma on May 25, 2020, and for the following four days during the protests, when many protesters were injured. She says it’s so important to write down the history of what has happened and what is happening. “We have to keep the truth, so the truth stays true.”
Marquise always greets people, explaining that Agape means love in Greek and Agape wants to spread love – “no community without unity.” “People want to bring us down. People think GFS is a dangerous place. Hopefully, it is life-changing for people to come here.”
Interracial couple Max and Stefanie Kolin and their 6-month-old baby Lily are from Chicago. They are on a pilgrimage. They love that it’s blocked off. “It’s a powerful place,” they say.
Dora Jones Robinson and her friend Darnella Wade were handing out campaign literature for Robinson, who is running for mayor of St. Paul. “I am the first African American woman to run for this position.” One of her major issues is gun violence. Wade said, “My son got shot on the East Side of St. Paul in 2016.”
A middle-aged couple from St. Paul, Scott and Chris, came to pray the day before Easter, “the day of resurrection. We pray for grace from tragedy. We’re glad they’ve kept the space. We came here to pray and give respect.”
We ran into Charles McMillian, one of the witnesses at 38th and Chicago on May 25, 2020. He said he had a third-grade education and was originally from Mississippi where things were “always swept under the rug. So I was raised to pay attention. … I’m not afraid to tell the truth. I don’t tell lies. It’s how I am and what I did the other day.” [He had just testified in court the previous Wednesday.] “I was afraid at first and pled the fifth. Then the lawyers convinced me that the police were not going to bother me. I came here to get chicken wings and I’m still here. The other day an 86-year-old man from Atlanta called me. He said, ‘You made me cry.’”
After that, I went inside the Agape building. Agape member Larry Dent (whose given name is Gamel), his mom, Eartha, his sisters, Donna and Arianne, and his niece, Samaya, were there. Samaya lives in North Minneapolis and doesn’t come here much. She finds it sad yet feels something good has come out of it [the tragedy].
They were talking about a terrible attack on Larry by the police. Arianne found a newspaper account online in which it was mentioned. What I could gather from the conversation was that the police mistook Larry for a suspect. They hog-tied him and slammed him against the police car door. A group of white citizens physically fought with the police and saved his life. (Talking with Gamel another day I learned they knocked out his teeth, slammed his foot in the door and threatened to kill him. A reporter from WCCO filmed what was happening and later it was on the news. Although it occurred in 1992, and Gamel went on to go to college and become a behavior specialist in the public schools, he said he never got help for the trauma of that event and it has interfered with his life.)
After Larry and his family members left, Marquise got two phone calls in a row from a cousin who is incarcerated. Marquise is a great encourager and seems to be a rock for others, giving love and wisdom in abundance. He himself was imprisoned for 11 and a half years and has been out for two years now, so he’s especially aware of their situation. He’s “on a mission to help the next generation not go through what we went through.”
Outside again, Marcia and I met a young Black man, not a member of Agape, named Tredis Adams, who laughingly said he had paid a $10 fine to the curse jar at the Agape office – no cursing is allowed in there.
Then he started talking about money, the power of money. He wants the Black community to have that power. I was struck by his statement that nothing and nobody had ever kept him from doing what he wanted to do. He said the formula for success is to work 100 hours a week, have no bad habits and be honest – a person can be successful through planning, saving, creativity and resourcefulness. He bought his first apartment at age 16 and bought a duplex at age 18. Despite financial ups and downs, he was able to take a month off every year and take his family all over the world. And, when he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer a year and a half ago, he had the capacity to pursue alternative treatments.
When I first saw him, I thought he was about 25, so I was surprised to learn he is 55 and in the midst of cancer treatment right now. He used alternative treatments from the beginning, not as a last resort. A year ago, he weighed 120 pounds. He has written a book about his astounding journey, “How Cancer Did Me a Favor.”
The next weekend, the day got away from me, but as night fell, I decided to go to GFS and take notes anyway. By the time I got there it was dark and pretty cold, so I went with Marquise to the Agape office building. His cousin Joe Edwards was there. At 49, Joe had spent his last 14 years in federal penitentiaries all over the country, convicted in the same case as Marquise: “conspiracy to sell drugs.” (Joe didn’t take the plea deal since he was sure he’d be found innocent in a jury trial, but he was convicted and originally sentenced to 30 years, which, for many reasons, ended up being 14 years.) Because of the First Step Act (FSA), passed in December 2018, his sentence was suddenly shortened, and at the end of this past January, prison authorities took him to COVID quarantine for two weeks and then opened the doors and let him walk out. When it happens like that it’s called immediate release and it’s a shock.
Since he grew up around 38th and Chicago, Minneapolis is definitely his HOME. Immediately he left Kentucky for Minneapolis on the Greyhound bus. He had no ID, transportation, work or housing. With difficulty those things are falling into place.
For Joe, the hardest thing during his 14 years of incarceration was not being allowed to go to the funerals for his auntie, who was his biggest supporter, for his grandma, for his mother and for his 24-year-old son, who was murdered.
Now he is reconnecting with his three other children. He says, “By the grace of God, I’ve been able to convey to them how much they mean to me.”
I ran into so many lives that display extraordinary strength and resilience. Another one, Derek Armstrong, a member of Agape, has eight children. He expected five, but got a set of triplets and a set of twins. He has a great sense of humor. He’d have to.
And there’s the man with great vision, Steve Floyd, who for unexplained reasons looked to God (or the Universe) and basketball to find his calling to nurture young Black men who didn’t see a clear path before them. He helped found the Agape Movement 40 years ago, and although his artistic passion for photography tugs at him and he has survived a kidney transplant, he continues his community work today.