MINNEAPOLIS — Mileesha Smith doesn’t consider herself a volunteer.
“Usually when you volunteer you get to volunteer for a certain amount of hours and then it’s over and you actually are volunteering for somebody,” Smith said. "So, I can’t necessarily say I’m volunteering. I can say I’ve given my life to something.”
She was working as a nurse assistant when George Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020. She quit her job the next day as protests demanding justice for his death began.
Since then, she has spent countless hours at George Floyd Square, a growing, living memorial for Floyd, and other Black men and women who have been killed, outside of Cup Foods on 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis.
That’s where Floyd died as now-former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest.
“I got so involved because this is not the first time that this community has been hurt in such ways,” Smith said. "I knew something needed to be done because it wasn’t just about George Floyd. It was about the principle of the whole matter of why this keeps happening, and that things need to change so that this stop happening to us.”
Smith has been around since the beginning. She helped put up the barricades, which have stopped car traffic from entering the autonomous zone now for nearly a year.
She’s helped bring food to people grieving, and even shows visitors around the different memorials.
“Things really haven’t changed when it comes to me because I’m still feeding the people, I’m still deescalating, I’m still mentoring. I consider myself a therapist somedays, and depending on the situation, every day is different,” Smith said. "I don’t ever know what’s coming with the day, I just know that I’m needed in some way, shape or form.”
While the future of George Floyd Square is uncertain, Smith said right now, it is the symbol for continued protests for justice.
“What’s happening right here, it’s needed. It’s not what people want. It’s what we need,” Smith said. “And. if that’s what we need, then I’m willing to stand on what it is that we need as a people.”