Reading guide for His Name Is George Floyd by Robert Samuels, Toluse Olorunnipa

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His Name Is George Floyd

One Man's Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice

by Robert Samuels, Toluse Olorunnipa

His Name Is George Floyd by Robert Samuels, Toluse Olorunnipa X
His Name Is George Floyd by Robert Samuels, Toluse Olorunnipa
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  • First Published:
    May 2022, 432 pages

    Paperback:
    May 16, 2023, 432 pages

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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. The history of George Floyd's family can be traced to North Carolina, the state where his ancestors were enslaved. Floyd's great-great-grandfather, Hillery Thomas Stewart Sr., managed to amass a significant amount of wealth after emancipation thanks to the land he owned—land which was then seized from him. Why do you think Stewart was targeted in such a way, and what conditions made it so easy for the land to be taken from him? In your view, what repercussions did this event have on the economic condition of Floyd's family line—and other similar families—across generations?
  2. The Floyd family's new life in Texas took them to Cuney Homes, otherwise known as "the Bricks," a government housing project in Houston's Third Ward. What do you believe the authors mean when they say that life in the Bricks was "a modern sand trap of poverty from which Floyd struggled to escape?" How do you see some of the government housing policies mentioned creating or influencing this condition?
  3. In his segregated high school, Floyd saw sports—not education—as the key to achieving success. In your view, how did educational policies in Houston, the last large school district in America to desegregate, steer him toward trying to find an alternative path to financial stability?
  4. Chapter 5 describes some of Floyd's run-ins with police officers, many of which disproportionately targeted his neighborhood. Why do you believe he and others in his neighborhood were arrested by law enforcement with such frequency? In your view, what was the impact of the police's focus on low-level drug crimes? How would you rethink policing in Houston's Third Ward and other similar communities?
  5. In 2007, Floyd was accused of—and eventually imprisoned for—an armed robbery. The victim, Aracely Henriquez, tentatively picked Floyd out of a lineup, identifying him as the man who had attacked her in her home using an investigation method which is no longer authorized in Houston for law enforcement. Why do you think this method was prohibited? What do you see as its potential shortcomings?
  6. Why do you believe Floyd's friends counseled him to take a plea deal for the armed robbery, even though they did not believe he was guilty of being the gunman? In his place, do you believe you would do the same? Why or why not?
  7. George Floyd served his five-year sentence in two prisons, Bartlett and Diboll, that were privately managed rather than run by the government. At the time of Floyd's incarceration, prisons were becoming rapidly privatized across the state of Texas. What do you see as some of the government's possible motivations for turning to private prisons in the first place? What do you think Floyd's story reveals about the human costs of privatizing prison systems? What does it reveal about the prison system more broadly?
  8. Chapter 6 dives into the life of Derek Chauvin. In some ways, there were parallels between Floyd's and Chauvin's upbringings: in the structures of their families; in their struggles in the school system. Examining Chauvin's early days, what differences do you notice in his situation that allowed for him to benefit from broader opportunities in life? What roles do you see class, race, and place as playing in the two men's different future paths?
  9. Former officer Gwen Gunter suggests that the Minneapolis Police Department needed to be aggressive in the 1980s and 1990s because of the high level of gang activity in the precinct. What do you think were the pros and cons to this approach?
  10. As a police officer, Derek Chauvin had a long history of using neck restraint techniques and other violent tactics, leading to multiple allegations of excessive force. Why, then, do you believe he was allowed to continue working as an officer despite the many complaints against him?
  11. In Chapter 6, many cite the convoluted process of investigating civilian complaints against officers and how rarely those investigations lead to any disciplinary action. How do you think the lack of disciplinary measures influenced how police acted on Minneapolis' streets?
  12. When Floyd was released from prison, in many ways he still wasn't a man who was completely free—as a man with a record, he had difficulty finding employment and reintegrating into life beyond the cell walls. If you were in his place, what steps would you try to take to change your situation? In what ways do you see the difficulties that followed his release influencing his eventual decision to move to Minneapolis?
  13. Turning Point, the rehabilitation program that Floyd joined in Minneapolis, was created to serve the needs of Black men specifically. What do you think of founder Peter Hayden's approach? What do you think the authors meant when they wrote that "being Black in America is its own preexisting condition"?
  14. The authors discuss the concept of the Minnesota Paradox, noting that the "longtime egalitarianist state still had some of the most glaring disparities between Blacks and Whites in the country." What were some of Floyd's hopes and expectations for his new life in Minneapolis, and what were the realities that he encountered there instead? What do you think those difficulties revealed about the ability for Americans, particularly African Americans, to turn a new page on their lives? If you were in Floyd's place, what might it feel like to come to terms with these differences, and what effect do you think that might have on you?
  15. What are some of the ways that Floyd's size impacted how people treated him? What steps do you think could have been taken for those who interacted him to overcome those stereotypes and prejudices?
  16. Why do you believe Floyd's struggles with drug dependency were brought up in the courtroom during Derek Chauvin's trial—and why do you think Courteney Ross may have been uncomfortable with being forced to discuss it? Do you see his history with drug use as having a bearing on the circumstances of his death? If you were in Ross's place, how might you have reacted to this line of questioning?
  17. Floyd is far from the only person whose life was taken too soon by police violence in recent years. Why do you think Floyd's death galvanized such a global response? What other factors might have caused there to be increased attention to this case?
  18. In your view, what is George Floyd's legacy when it comes to the fight for racial justice in America? Are there conversations that you, your family, or your peers have had since his death that you had not been able to have before? What actionable steps do you feel able to take to contribute to a more equitable society?
  19. In Chapter 14, Reverend Jesse Jackson reminds readers of the progress that the country has made when it comes to eradicating racism and tells Philonise Floyd, "No matter what, remember: We're still winning." Do you agree with Jackson that the country is getting better at addressing systemic racism in the United States? Why or why not?


Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Penguin Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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