DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Houston, Texas - where today, George Floyd will be laid to rest. The 46-year-old black man who was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis will be buried next to his mom. We're here in Floyd's hometown of Houston to cover the memorial services and to dig deeper into who he was. And covering this with us here in Houston, NPR's John Burnett. Hi, John.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Morning, David.
GREENE: So you've been spending time in George Floyd's old neighborhood. What are people there saying?
BURNETT: Well, what struck me is that so many people remember him. Big Floyd, as he was known, was big and husky. He played basketball and football, center and tight end, for the Yates High School Lions. They made it to state finals in early '90s. He was the oldest of five children. They lived in the Cuney Homes, a public housing complex in the Third Ward. His mother, Miss Cissy, as she was known, cooked at a fast-food place and had trouble providing for all of her kids. Floyd was such a good athlete that his peers thought he would go on to the pros. Here's Mary Ginns. She was a year ahead of him in high school, and she considered herself his big sister.
MARY GINNS: We were just sitting around talking and laughing and playing like we normally do. And he was like, hey, I'm going to change the world. I'm going to do something great. And we were like, we know you are. You're going to be in the NBA (laughter). We're thinking that way. But God put something in him to see it a different way. He probably didn't know at the time what he was saying, but that is exactly what he did. He has changed this world.
GREENE: Oh, wow, John. I assume what she means there is that his death has changed the world.
BURNETT: And, of course, we won't know whether George Floyd actually changed the world until protests are followed up with concrete reform to reduce police brutality of African Americans. But, you know, his old school chums are sitting back here in the Third Ward in south central Houston. They can't believe what they're seeing on the news. They saw that video of an officer with his knee on a black man's neck on a street in Minneapolis, choking the life out of him. Then they found out it was Big Floyd. And then they watched protest erupt not just in thousands of cities and towns all across America, but in London and Paris and Rio and Rome. They couldn't believe this was the George Floyd they all knew who used to shoot hoops and rap with DJ Screw and help out with a church service on Sunday mornings on the basketball courts of Cuney Homes.
GREENE: Well, John, what sort of changes do his old acquaintances in Houston want to see in the wake of his death?
BURNETT: I mean, David, I think you could say they're on the same page as protesters everywhere. Yesterday, I spoke with a longtime community leader in the Third Ward named Tomaro Bell. She knows the Floyd family. And what she says is that after this spasm of outrage, things just can't go back to normal.
TOMARO BELL: I'm hoping that whatever this has sparked inside of them, that it doesn't die down with this. I'm glad to see people who never would've talked about national policing changes. I'm hoping this event and what has transpired doesn't die when this thing - when he's buried tomorrow.
GREENE: All right, John, talk me through what we're expecting today at the funeral.
BURNETT: Well, the funeral is taking place at a large church in southwest Houston called Fountain of Praise. Former Vice President Joe Biden flew into town yesterday and met privately with the Floyd family. He taped a video message that they're supposed to play at the service. They're expecting Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Reverend Al Sharpton, actor Jamie Foxx and rappers Ludacris and Master P. Floyd will be buried at a cemetery south of town in a private cemetery next to his mom, whose name is tattooed on his torso. And it's going to be Houston hot. They're forecasting a record high of 99 today. It's supposed to feel like 110. Houston paramedics treated dozens of people for heat exhaustion yesterday who were standing in line for the viewing. And it's going to get even hotter today.
GREENE: NPR's John Burnett here in Houston. John, thank you so much.
BURNETT: You bet.
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