During the last eight minutes and 46 seconds of his life, with the weight of an officer’s knee on his neck, George Floyd called out for his deceased mother in a manner some practitioners of traditional African spirituality have likened to the summoning of ancestors for guidance and protection.
Such vibrations, they said, can set off a series of life-changing events and boost the spiritual morale of Black people, especially those immersed in the ongoing battle against institutional racism and its various manifestations.
That’s the message a large group of African spiritualists — women and men adorned in light-color gowns, lappas, shirts, pants and headwraps — had recently set out to convey with a spiritual healing restoration circle that formed in Lafayette Park — just feet from the White House amid the rancor of protesters’ chants and police sirens.
The Friday night event not only attracted diverse groups of participants and observers, but unified adherents of the Akan, Ifa, Orisha, Santerria, Vodoun, and Yoruba traditions, among several others.
“We feel this is the most important thing [because] you carry [your ancestors’] blood in their veins,” said Monique Stringer-Olomidun, an Orisha/Ifa adherent who traveled from Richmond, Virginia, for the spiritual healing restoration circle — referred to as an Akom and a Bembe — as a show of solidarity with Black people.
She described the June 12 event near H Street and Constitution Avenue in Northwest, and ancestral remembrance in general, as critical elements for realizing change.
“You see what happened when Mr. Floyd called on his mother,” Stringer-Olomidun said. “Imagine [what would’ve happened] if he called on more of his ancestors. [They] can’t keep treating us this way. If you do nothing else as a Black person, pay homage.”
The spiritual healing restoration circle preceded an annual tribute to the ancestors that the African Diaspora Ancestral Commemoration Institute, or ADACI, hosted online Saturday.
African traditional religions, many of which predate and have even influenced Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, have grown increasingly popular in recent years among people of African descent, particularly those in the Western hemisphere yearning to connect to their roots and absolve their affiliation from what they believe to be racist and sexist religious institutions.
The young people behind last Friday’s restoration healing circle represent the Restoration Collective, an organization created in response to the national fervor against police brutality. They count among legions of youth in the D.C. area who’ve completed the Ankobea rites-of-passage program, through which young people of African descent have marked their transition from childhood to adolescence and adulthood.
Awodele Orisabokola, a member of the Restoration Collective, said the healing restoration circle represented the fulfillment of a mandate bestowed upon him and his peers by their elders and ancestors.
“It’s time for a change, [for us] to use our work, our upliftment, [and] medicine and uplift all cultures,” Orisabokola said. “A lot of people are going through mental health crises. We’re here to bring some healthy energy and well-being for our people. Our elders are giving us the powers, workings, and teachings to propel this and go forth with this decision.”
Since protests have erupted in several cities in the U.S. and across the globe, statues of controversial white figures have been torn down, while officials in Minneapolis, where Floyd died, along with Los Angeles, New York City and Boston, have either considered cutting police department budgets or enacted policies doing so.
In the District, emergency legislation unanimously passed by the D.C. Council last week bans chokeholds, restricts officers’ use of force against protesters, and mandates the release of body camera footage.
James Hatcher, a District resident and participant in Friday’s activities, said the ancestors who’ve fought to secure freedoms for Black people laid the foundation for the series of events that have unfolded since May 25. For him, the spiritual healing restoration circle in Lafayette Park represents African people of different spiritual backgrounds unifying in their search for peace.
“We have a purpose and forget it [when we’re born] but if we listen to our ancestors and call out to them, feed them, they are guides to what we need to be,” said Hatcher, an Ifa priest also known as Ifa Obaaye. “Even if you don’t acknowledge them, they’re there.
“I pray to my ancestors every day to watch over my family,” Hatcher continued. “They paved the way for us to do this. Imagine being out here doing this in the 1960s. It wouldn’t have happened but the ancestors [made] that to happen [today] and we have to acknowledge that.”