After Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012, Brooklyn-based photographer Ruddy Roye started to think differently about his work. “I told myself the work I pursue personally would be about educating my sons,” says Roye, 50. “My reason for being out here is to capture different scenarios to share with them that they’re second-class citizens. Their rights do not come as normal and natural as the rest of America — that there are different rules for black people.”
Roye has documented stories of black struggle and resilience for TIME, including in the aftermath of the shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling by police officers in the same week in July 2016, but the time he spent in Houston for the funeral of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25, was “one of the most emotionally draining” photo shoots he’s ever done.
Roye shadowed the family from June 7 to June 9, and he had the opportunity to speak with Floyd’s son, Quincy Mason, about finding the strength to move forward. “I put my hand on his chest and [said], “Just breathe and understand that this is your father,’” Roye says. “I was seeing on TV all that power and all that energy that’s been generated by the moment where these family members are in the background. We, the people who are not intimately attached to the family, we see a revolution. We find solidarity and empathy with the family, but to us it’s a movement. To them, it’s their family member. They’re overwhelmed. They were crying. They were in pain. So I had to walk that line of recording history and empathy. When I was with the family, I couldn’t be a part of the movement. I had to be in the lane of empathy and strength for the family, and when I wasn’t with the family, I could photograph like I was documenting history.
“I was in the front seat, watching a family that had been catapulted onto an international platform quickly, watching them rise to the occasion on so many levels, and be an example for, tragically, the next family that might have their family members killed, taken away from them. In every choice they made, they are effecting change.”
Roye, whose own sons are now 11 and 15, found hope in all the mourners who came out to the public viewing of Floyd’s body on June 8 and en route to the cemetery on June 9, especially in a 10-year-old boy Engwin Williams. The light shining through his yellow poster of George Floyd’s face with the words “I can’t breathe” caught Roye’s eye. “I asked him why he came out today, and he said, ‘To show George that we’re with him,'” Roye said.
With reporting by Olivia B. Waxman
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