As Pierre Paul watched the video of the gruesome torture, suffocation and murder of George Floyd by the knee of the Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, his heart ached. When the peaceful protests deteriorated into a riot, with looting, fires and destruction, he saw a community hurting and trying to come to grips with what was happening.
Pierre said, “I was pulled toward the hurt I saw in Minneapolis. I was hurting and needed to heal. I saw a community that was hurting and needed some glue to help it heal. I knew I needed to get involved, to try to help.”
Pierre texted his friend, Emma Hoyhtya, asked if she would help him and she agreed. On Saturday morning, May 30, they left her home in Shoreview for Lake Street in Minneapolis to volunteer in the cleanup.
As Emma described it, “We saw all of the people with brooms. People were cleaning in full force. The shattered glass was being swept up. People showed up for Lake Street. We found a school for disabled adults that had graffiti on the exterior walls. People were handing out supplies and we scrubbed off the graffiti with a product called “Goof Off!” which cleans it off walls. Then we swept out a Total Wireless storefront. From there, we rolled up to Target.”
At Target on Lake Street, they found the prime spot for the looting and destruction. People had taken shopping carts and smashed the windows. Electronics and other high value items had been stolen. Together they went through the side door of the Target building, where water was flowing out.
Emma described the scene, “A buildup of water sludge rose up past your ankles. There was a broken pipe spewing water. Looters had squirted condiments, opened up cereal boxes and dogfood bags and spread it. It was nasty and smelled foul.”
She continued, “Pierre got himself propped on a shelf. He is contemplative. He surveyed the area and thought about what to do. Then he said, ‘Emma, one person needs to start the cleanup.’ He picked up a shelf to push the sludge out of the door. I followed him. Then three people asked if they could help out and joined in. Others picked up larger items like large bottles of pop, put them back on the shelves so we could push out the water sludge. More people joined, bringing shovels and brooms. Volunteers began sweeping the debris into trash bags and more people joined the effort. We went deeper into the store. All the time pushing water out the doors. An assembly line was created to fill the bags with debris. We really cleaned up the store.”
Emma said, “You could tell Pierre was the leader. He stood on a bucket and used his powerful bass voice to invite others to join us and shared what they could do to help. There was no social media outreach. It was all grassroots, on the ground volunteers. There was a curfew and major roads in the metro were closing by 7 pm Saturday night, so Pierre got everyone wrapped up, invited them back on Sunday and we headed back to my home.”
Emma continued, “On Sunday morning, people met up at Target again to finish the cleanup. Pierre asked, ‘Could we salvage any of the food? Other than the food damaged by water, could we save the canned and packaged food and get it to those in need?’ He then called Target’s corporate office and they gave us permission to give away the food that was salvageable. He organized a group of volunteers who began packing bags of food for pick up by those in need and for distribution to local food banks.”
She added, “One of the volunteers called a waste management company they had a connection to that brought in trucks to haul away the garbage. it was really beautiful with so many people coming together. By that time, Target corporate had arrived and arranged for the store to be boarded up.”
Pierre commented, “What’s really important is you see people out here with hijabs, you see people out here who are wearing Black Lives Matter shirts, people who are wearing Cops Lives Matter shirts, but none of that matters because we’re all coming together for one common good and that’s to bring justice to what’s happening. Hopefully, we can bring back justice to African Americans who feel that has been taken away from them – because it has been. We can bring justice back for Target and other businesses that have been damaged, too, by helping cleanup. This started with just a few people and then over a thousand joined us. It’s exactly what we need to do. We should come together like this on every issue. It’s sad it took this (death of George Floyd) for us to come together.”
Emma says about Pierre, “I admire Pierre’s ability to take an idea and then go implement it, inviting others to join him. He jumps in and leads with his heart. His energy is contagious, and others want to follow him. He’s such an amazing leader.”
When asked about his purpose, Pierre commented, “My goal in life, my driving force, is to be a beacon of light when people are hopeless.”
Pierre Paul is a 21-year old graduate student from Bradley University in Peoria, IL where he’s pursuing a master’s degree in non-profit/public management.
On Thursday May 28, Pierre saw the hurt and hopelessness in Minneapolis on tv and decided to do something about it. Pierre had never been to Minnesota, but as the speaker of the assembly at Bradley University, he met Emma, who is now president of the student senate, and knew she lived near Minneapolis, the only person he knew in Minnesota. They exchanged text messages, Emma told Pierre he’d have a place to stay and Pierre hopped in his car, driving the eight hours to Shoreview from Peoria.
Pierre says, “In Minneapolis, I was bringing hope to others and they were giving hope to me, too. That hope gives me drive and life. We’re fighting for justice. Justice that’s been missing for 400+ years in the US. We need to keep pushing. There’s a systemic problem. The criminal justice system is biased, it hasn’t adapted, and the flood gates open with officers who are bad and create racial injustice. George Floyd is the fire we needed lit. Justice shouldn’t have to be served, but it needs to be served. Peacefully.”
When asked about his passions, Pierre described, “I’m most passionate about change. Creating an optimistic society where dreams really come true for youth. Where we live together in a world with no limitations or boundaries due to the pigment of our skin, our sexual preferences and gender. I’d like to see us create change that is lasting. One raindrop in the oceans creates ripples, and those create more ripples. And those ripples cause generational growth. A future that is better for all races of people.”
He added, “I felt this weekend in Minneapolis, people were brought together who needed hope. We shined a light that protesting isn’t destruction. We protested together for equality and there are many facets of the movement. Many need justice and justice doesn’t come in just one size. This weekend, in a small way, we cleaned up that Target store together. We came together. Imagine if we came together to tackle all of our big problems?”
Living his purpose of “Being a beacon of light when others are hopeless”, Pierre, a 21-year old graduate student who’d never been to Minnesota before May 29, led and lifted others up who needed it, creating quite an impact.
Pierre Paul’s future appears to be very bright indeed. Keep living by your purpose and creating an impact, Pierre!