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'Everybody loved George': A familiar refrain about a man who showed everybody love

"Big Floyd was always full of joy and loved everyone around him," Christian hip-hop artist Corey Paul said.
Image: A drawn portrait of George Floyd, surrounded by protesters raising their fists and holding signs that read \"I can't breathe\" and \"Black Lives Matter.\"
Everyone loved George Floyd, and George loved everyone, said friends and family members.Jamiel Law / for NBC News

George. Perry. Big Floyd. Twin. No matter what they called him, everybody loved George Floyd.

His brother Philonise Floyd said last week during a memorial in Minneapolis that George was "inspiring" from a young age because he would attract people of all backgrounds where they lived in the Third Ward neighborhood of Houston.

"It was just amazing — everywhere you go and see people how they cling to him, they wanted to be around him," Philonise said. "You know, George, he was a like a general. Every day he walks outside, there be a line of people ... wanting to greet him and wanting to have fun with him."

Those who knew Floyd spoke of his commitment to his community and the impact he had through ministry. He wanted to give a voice to the voiceless, and he served as a "person of peace" in his neighborhood.

Everyone loved George, and George loved everyone, said friends and family members who knew Floyd from his time growing up in Houston to his time living in Minneapolis, where his life was cut short at the age of 46.

Floyd helped people in the Third Ward through ministry

He used his compassion and knack for connecting with people of all walks of life to give back to his hometown through a ministry whose mission was to help people in the Third Ward.

George Floyd, holding the Bible, and the men behind "church in The Bricks" in Houston.Nijalon Dunn / Resurrection Houston

Floyd, who had been an aspiring hip-hop artist, came upon the ministry, led through Resurrection Houston church, when it put on a benefit concert for the neighborhood in 2010.

"He thanked us afterward and said, 'If y'all about God's business, then that's my business,'" Corey Paul, a Christian hip-hop artist, told NBC News. "From then on, he served as our 'person of peace,' a bridge and co-sign for us to minister in Third Ward, specifically Cuney Homes, also known as 'The Bricks.'"

"You can't get worse than that neighborhood," said Ronnie Lillard, another Christian hip-hop artist, who goes by the stage name Reconcile. They called it "the bottom."

Some time after the benefit concert, the group of hip-hop artists and college students led by Pastor P.T. Ngwolo were driving people to doctors' appointments and delivering groceries when they realized that the neighborhood of "disparaging poverty" was surrounded by churches but that the churches didn't reach out to the people outside their buildings.

"They didn't have time to invest in the community that doesn't tithe, doesn't give," Lillard said.

"What we decided in the midst of seeing all that ... we were going to bring church to the residents," Lillard said. "Church is going to be in the projects on the basketball court."

They called it "church in The Bricks."

"When George started seeing some of these ideas ... black college kids saying 'let's do church in the projects,' it was intriguing to him," Lillard said.

George Floyd, second left in the blue jersey, ministers to young men on a basketball court with "church in The Bricks" in Houston.Nijalon Dunn / Resurrection Houston

Floyd 'leveraged his street relationships to help forge church'

Before Floyd's time with the church in The Bricks, he spent time in prison for a conviction on a charge of aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon in 2007. He had also faced a 1997 drug charge in Houston.

"Everything I know about him is from post-prison," Lillard said. "When he came home, he was a changed man."

He "wanted to see his community change" and "leveraged his street relationships to help forge church in the area," he said. "Every guy who was selling drugs on that block ended up coming to Bible study. That's George Floyd's impact."

They told the kids that they could play in the basketball tournament if they attended church. "'Once they came out, they were like, 'That was good. That's church? I'm going back,'" Lillard said.

"He would jump right in and help set up and take down chairs for church services on the basketball court, and he helped drag pools over for baptism services," Paul said. "Big Floyd was always full of joy and loved everyone around him."

George Floyd, in the blue jersey, plays basketball with young men with "church in The Bricks" in Houston.Nijalon Dunn / Resurrection Houston

"He was brilliant to talk to," Lillard added. "He had a deep, raspy but warm tone to his voice. He always spoke encouragements."

Philonise Floyd said his brother connected with everyone.

"Guys that were doing drugs, like smokers and homeless people, you couldn't tell because when you spoke to George, they felt like they was the president, because that's how he made you feel," Floyd said. "Everybody loved George."

Floyd grew up in Houston before moving to Minneapolis for work

Born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Floyd moved to Houston when he was a child. At 6-foot-6, he was a star basketball and football player in high school there and then played basketball at South Florida Community College (now South Florida State College) from 1993 to 1995.

Stephen Jackson, a childhood friend of Floyd's who went on to play in the NBA, said Floyd never treated him differently after he gained fame.

"Being a professional athlete, so many people abuse your friendship and your kindness, and he was one of those guys that genuinely supported me," Jackson told NBC's "TODAY" show. "You don't have many people that genuinely support you without any motives, and Floyd was that guy."

Noticing their resemblance early on, the two called each other "twin" and remained friends. "We always hung together. Every time I went to Houston, it was my first stop to pick him up," Jackson said.

While Floyd adored Houston, he moved to Minneapolis to find work around 2014.

He quickly found a job working as a security guard at a downtown Salvation Army store, where he met his girlfriend, Courteney Ross.

She was visiting a loved one at the store, and he "saw how taxed I was and came over and prayed with me, loved me, and we were together ever since," Ross told NBC affiliate KARE.

"Floyd could take anyone and lift them up and lift their spirits without even knowing. He wouldn't want me to cry. He wouldn't want anyone to cry. I can feel his arm around me right now," Ross said. "It's just the way I met him. He's just taking care of me because he saw that I was down. He would do that for anybody."

Full coverage of George Floyd's death and protests around the country

Later, Floyd juggled two jobs, as a truck driver and a bouncer at the Conga Latin Bistro.

"He's more than an employee. He's a close friend. He's like a brother to me," said Jovanni Thunstrom, who owns Conga Latin Bistro with his wife, Ruth.

He said Floyd would always make sure Ruth made it safely to her car when he wasn't there and that he knew all the customers by their first names. "Everybody loved Floyd," Thunstrom said in a familiar refrain.

Roxie Washington, the mother of Floyd's 6-year-old daughter, Gianna, said last week that Floyd was a "good man" and lamented that her daughter would have to grow up without a father. Floyd also had two other children, a boy and a girl.

"He will never see her grow up, graduate. He will never walk her down the aisle," Washington said. "If there's a problem she's having and she needs her dad, she does not have that anymore."

'He became a social justice icon for change, and that's heroic'

Floyd died on the evening of May 25 after he was accused of passing a suspicious-looking $20 bill at a corner store and was detained by Minneapolis police.

He ended up cheek-down on the street beside a patrol car with Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin's knee pressed to his neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd repeatedly pleaded "I can't breathe," until he couldn't anymore and fell silent.

About six minutes in, Floyd had fallen unresponsive, according to a criminal complaint. But Chauvin didn't budge. He kept his knee on Floyd's neck for almost three more minutes.

George Perry Floyd was pronounced dead at 9:25 p.m.

The Hennepin County medical examiner ruled the death a homicide caused by "a cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by law enforcement officer(s)."

Pathologists hired by Floyd's family concluded that blood and air flow were cut off to his brain, causing him to die by mechanical asphyxia.

Mike Abumayyaleh, the owner of the store that called police about the suspect bill, said that Floyd was a regular customer and that he "may not have even known that the bill was counterfeit."

Abumayyaleh said he didn't realize Floyd had died until the following morning. "We were all outraged," he said.

Videos of the deadly incident sparked days of protests across the nation and around the globe.

Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder, and the three other former officers involved, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, were charged with aiding and abetting murder. All four were fired the day after Floyd died.

Minnesota authorities have also launched a sweeping civil rights investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department as other cities and towns around the country begin to have conversations and make changes around racial injustice and police brutality.

Memorial services for Floyd were held last week in Minneapolis and North Carolina. On Monday, another viewing was held in Houston before his funeral was held Tuesday at The Fountain of Praise church.

Lillard said Floyd's message was simple: "I'm not perfect. I got just as many flaws as the next man, but we have to change, and we have to be different people." He challenged people to "use your voice, be a voice for the voiceless."

"To see that that's what his life is — his voice is a voice for the voiceless — he might not consider himself a hero," Lillard said. "But he became a social justice icon for change, and that's heroic."