Alabama Street runs for about eleven miles through the heart of Houston, starting in the Third Ward and ending just past the Galleria. At the eastern edge of Alabama—where it begins as a two-lane road—sits Jack Yates High School.
It’s on that stretch where three words now cover the street: Black Lives Matter.
The massive letters are part of a new mural in front of Yates, honoring its own George Floyd. The project, a partnership between Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis and the Houston Society for Change and approved through the City of Houston, has been in the planning stages since last summer.
After Floyd, a Yates High graduate and Houston native, was killed last May, marches erupted across the country as thousands took to the streets to protest police brutality and systemic racism.
Floyd grew up just down Alabama Street from the mural and graduated from Yates in 1993. It is a shared connection that is “super important” to the artist behind the mural, Jonah Elijah, also a Third Ward native and Yates graduate.
“I’m from the Third Ward. I know the Floyd family. I just had to be a part of this project,” the 2012 graduate said. “I felt like I should put my touch on it, that it was meant to be for me to be a part of this.”
At a ceremony unveiling the mural to the public, multiple public officials gathered to honor George Floyd and promote the ideas behind the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Today, we are here to celebrate the life—and the death—of George Floyd,” Mayor Sylvester Turner told the crowd. “This is a public statement that his life and death were not in vain.”
HISD Interim Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan also spoke at the ceremony, acknowledging that this public display of support will affect Yates students for years to come.
“They will see this every day,” Lathan said. “I am so proud that our students at Yates High School will know the legacy and the history of this school.”
The high school’s principal, Tiffany Guillory, agreed.
“Every morning they will walk in and know that they matter,” Guillory said. “A Jack Yates High School graduate, from our Third Ward Community, has made an impact on the world.”
Other speakers at the ceremony included Vaughn Dickerson and Herbert Mouton, co-founders of CHUMP 88, an organization founded in Floyd’s honor that works to end police violence and promote civic engagement in the Third Ward and beyond, as well as US Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, State Senator Borris Miles, and HISD Board of Trustees President Dr. Patricia Allen.
The mural is bookended by the Yates High School crest on one side with Floyd’s football jersey on the other, alongside the dates of his birth and death.
George Floyd’s connection to the HISD school was lifelong. As Yates celebrates its 95th anniversary this month, his family said he told “so many stories” of his years at the school. And that family connection to the school is ongoing, with his niece Brooke Williams as a current honor-roll student and varsity basketball player at Yates.
She acknowledged the importance of unveiling the mural in February, or Black History Month.
“Please remember that I will rise,” Williams said. “My family will rise. Black men will rise. Black lives will rise.”
It’s a message of unity and progress that the artist behind the mural agrees with.
“Just these three words, it’s something to think about,” Elijah said. “It allows black lives to matter to us, in this neighborhood. We can use it as an anchor to unify. Because if we can unite, we can always move forward.”