A witness to George Floyd's murder, Christopher Martin calls on TEDxFargo audience to 'rise'
As the cashier who accepted George Floyd's counterfeit $20 bill, Christopher Martin had a front-and-center view when a normal work day became an international story. Speaking at TEDxFargo Thursday, July 21, Martin shared his story and called on the hundreds in attendance to "rise" through adversity.
FARGO — Christopher Martin stood alone on stage at TEDxFargo Thursday morning, July 21, to share his unique vantage point on what should have been a normal work day over two years ago.
Addressing the hundreds in attendance, Martin set the scene for what would become the final minutes of George Floyd's life. "I go to work as normal," Martin recalled. "It's Memorial Day weekend. Spirits are high."
It was Martin who was working at Cup Foods on Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis when he first saw Floyd, a customer he had never seen before. After a few "miscellaneous conversations" with Martin, Floyd approached the register to purchase a package of cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill.
"Instead of alerting my manager immediately, I take the bill from George and I give him the pack of cigarettes," Martin told the audience.
Questioning the counterfeit bill, Martin began to "doubt himself." He brought it to the attention of a co-worker, who proceeded to tell the manager. Martin was tasked with going outside to retrieve Floyd and bring him back into the store. "Unfortunately, this did not take place," Martin stoically shared.
The situation got "harsher," Martin said, which prompted a call to police. Police loaded Floyd into a squad car before he was laid down on the street, at which point Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck for over eight minutes.
Martin was a witness to it all. As he watched the horrific scene unfold right in front of his workplace, he was left with more questions. "As I witness this with my eyes, I have to ask myself the question, 'Did I make the right decision?'" Martin contemplated.
'Trying to find closure'
In the aftermath of Floyd's murder, Martin saw millions of people march to honor Floyd's name.
He was there, too, when protests gave way to riots and small businesses across the city where he was born and raised were burned to the ground. The effects were not contained to the Twin Cities, however. "Not only were there riots and looting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but this transcended all across the nation," Martin said.
Through it all, Martin has chosen to "rise," a word he used frequently during Thursday morning's remarks. "I was trying to find closure, trying to find a way to deal with this trauma, the PTSD of what I'd just seen," he said.
Now a student at North Central University in Minneapolis, Martin shared a laugh with the audience when he lamented that his grades haven't gotten the message yet.
"Academically, in the second semester, my grades will certainly need to rise," he said.
Martin offered the four ways he has "chosen to keep moving forward and make the best of the situation."
The first was relying on a strong support system. That took the form of brothers, sisters, family and coaches. "It took me a large period of time after the George Floyd situation to remind myself that I couldn't do this alone."
Martin also called upon his faith to persevere. "I threw in the towel," he remembered. "I didn't know how to deal with this burden. I had to ask God, 'Please, pick me up, put my feet on solid ground so I can keep moving forward.'"
Another crucial realization for Martin was that he needed to let go of burdens that were not his. "I did not kill George Floyd," he remarked. "That is not my burden to carry for the rest of my life."
Martin said this unburdening is applicable to anyone, regardless of whether or not they had to bear witness to a traumatizing historic event. "There are situations where there are burdens in your life that you're carrying that don't belong to you," he commented. "It's OK to be supportful to a friend, but it's another thing in itself to try to take on the responsibilities and make them your own."
Lastly, Martin reminded the audience once more that everyone has the opportunity and obligation to rise above adversity. "All of the eyewitnesses that were there that day got to rise. The officers that were involved got to rise," he said. "The one person that did not get to rise from all of this was George Floyd.
"I choose to rise for George Floyd and to honor his name," he concluded before being serenaded with a sustained standing ovation from the TEDxFargo crowd.
Following his remarks, event organizer Greg Tehven asked Martin to outline his hopes for American youth.
Martin replied by sharing that, in the aftermath of what he'd seen, several people reached out to ask how he was doing. "I couldn't comprehend what I had seen, so I just told them I was OK," he said. "The reality was I was sinking and I was drowning."
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After a while, Martin finally admitted to himself that he was "not OK" and that he needed help. It's why he called upon those in attendance to more honestly share their feelings, especially when those feelings are negative.
"My hope is that, as a society today, we will stop just telling people that we're OK," Martin said. "We have to come to the realization that it's OK not to be OK and be honest with the people around us."
Accomplishing this aspiration, Martin said, starts with making an effort to become less isolated.
"We need to do a better job of connecting," he said. "That takes not only the older generation, it takes the younger generation as well to be vulnerable and take that step of faith knowing that people that have come before you have ... a way for you to keep moving forward."