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Activist And Christian Hip-Hop Artist Remembers His Friend, George Floyd

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This week we've been talking about the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer accused of killing George Floyd. Now we're going to talk with someone who was friends with the man who died under Chauvin's knee. George Floyd was a rapper who was drawn to Christian hip-hop later in life, and his friend Ronnie Lillard got to know him through a church in Houston. He told us this last year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

RONNIE LILLARD: We had found a way to blend street culture with redemptive stories about change and the gospel of Jesus Christ and found a way to weave that into actual social justice and be the hands and feet of what we're talking about.

SHAPIRO: And Ronnie Lillard joins us again to talk about his late friend and collaborator. Thank you for being here.

LILLARD: Appreciate you guys.

SHAPIRO: What's been going through your mind as you've watched all the coverage of the trial this week?

LILLARD: You know, just thinking about how people are going to respond depending on how it goes.

SHAPIRO: You mean a conviction or an acquittal.

LILLARD: Correct. If there's an acquittal - thinking about the response specifically for that. You know, I had an opportunity to, you know, really just continue to be plugged into everybody, you know, in George's world back home at Third Ward. And it's still fresh, and I think the trial makes it a little bit more fresh. It kind of opens some of the wounds.

SHAPIRO: I'm sure.

LILLARD: Yeah - just haven't healed fully.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Have you been able to talk to his family at all?

LILLARD: So, man, tragically, one of his young proteges, one of the guys that he spent a lot of time with, a young man he invested a lot of his time with, just tragically passed, was gunned down.

SHAPIRO: Oh, I'm so sorry.

LILLARD: Yeah. You know, just - but had a lot of conversations with - you know, it's just - it's tragic, you know? You know, a lot of what we're standing for - you know, for the justice of George Floyd and the advocacy for those who are, you know, on the fringes and marginalized in our communities - you know, it's still felt. So we definitely want to see justice for Floyd, and we want to see other things that stem from, you know, essentially him laying his life down.

SHAPIRO: And how much of that has to do with this one trial versus something bigger? - because this has obviously turned into a national and a global movement. And so you've got this trial happening in Minneapolis. How important is the outcome of that trial to the kind of change you're talking about?

LILLARD: As soon as the thing happened, it seemed as if George Floyd's situation became like a - it was politicized. And it became something - a talking point for political parties. And then after the elections had its results, it seems like it's less politicized and more of a community and a struggle for the marginalized people. Like, it's not so much a political talking point.

SHAPIRO: As an artist, is there a way that you've been remembering your friend?

LILLARD: Putting my feet to the ground. You know what I mean?

SHAPIRO: And doing what? I mean, tell us about it.

LILLARD: I find it very important that we utilize music, hip-hop culture to speak the change that we want to see. I use my platform to come alongside what the state attorney is doing here in - down here in Miami. State Attorney Katherine Rundle has brought together a committee, the Committee of Continuing Justice Reform. We had a town hall meeting just listening from everybody from all angles of this dynamic.

And part of that committee - what was birthed out of it was some proposed legislation that was pushed up to the House and the Senate for change. And part of that legislation is to, you know, of course, ban the chokeholds but also to train officers on verbal and physical tactics that help avoid physical response, train officers on de-escalation, appropriate responses to resistance. And then just thinking through all different aspects - maybe all calls don't need a officer to show up. Maybe some calls, we need social workers, or maybe sometimes we need mental health professionals.

SHAPIRO: Ronnie Lillard raps under the name Reconcile, and he was friends with the late George Floyd. Thank you for talking with us.

LILLARD: God bless y'all.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEANE SONG, "ATLANTIC") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.