On May 29, Terrell Bryant had decided he was going to die, and take a cop with him.
He’d gotten into a fight with his sister and left her home in Hopkins to go to a buddy’s, where they got into an argument about the Bible.
He didn’t have a job or home, he was broke, and he had separated and wasn’t able to see his daughters. And so when George Floyd died on the streets of Minneapolis, beneath the knee of a cop, Bryant made a plan. He was going to confront police, kill one — and end up dead.
“I was in a rage,” he said. “I was ready to go.”
So after his cousin dropped him off near the boundary between Minneapolis and St. Louis Park, he took off his shirt and walked to Cup Foods, the site near 38th Street and Chicago Avenue where Floyd died.
“When I came over here that day, I was specifically, solely coming over here to die – and take one of them with me, for real,” he said. “No matter how I had to go, it had to happen. That’s the way I felt. And it needed to be a necessary sacrifice for a lot of other people to start rising up. … Because the real violent part happened to us, and we’ve been watching it. We watched the execution of our brother on TV. That was an execution. A murder.”
But there were no police at 38th and Chicago that night – there rarely are anymore. Instead, Bryant found a young black woman confronting a group of white supremacists. Alone. So he stuck by her side all night, making sure she didn’t get hurt.
That young woman, Bethany Young, lived just a couple blocks away, and Bryant ended up mingling with people in her Powderhorn neighborhood that night as they kept watch over their block. He asked someone for a cigarette and started talking.
It was about 4 a.m., and some of the neighbors were turning in when someone asked Bryant where he was going to go.
“Probably the casket, I don’t know,” he told them.
“I was gonna walk right up to (a cop) and say something to his face, spit on him in his face and I was gonna sock him in his f—ing mouth. That’s what I was going to do. And I knew what was going to happen after that.”
But one of the neighbors he’d met, Julia Eagles, had another idea. She and her partner, Abby Finis, had a spare Airbnb room in their house. They invited Bryant to stay the night.
“I was like ‘Really?’ I didn’t know her from a can of paint,” Bryant said.
By then, Finis and Eagles knew about Bryant’s plan. They also knew he had a criminal record. And they knew he had no place to lay his head.
“He came here to die, so he didn’t really have anywhere to go,” Finis said.
After hearing the offer, Bryant handed Finis all his identification and a debit card as a sort of collateral.
“You know why I did that?” he asked.
“Trust,” Finis said.
Then she handed it all back.
‘They changed my life’
For Bryant, something happened in that moment. “They changed my life,” he said. “That day changed my life. I no longer wanna just die. I have purpose now.”
Bryant said he “woke up in disbelief and awe the next morning.” And then he made Eagles and Finis breakfast.
Since then, he’s become a fixture in the neighborhood. A natural connector, Bryant helps the “white people” in the area understand what this protest is all about, said Eagles. “It’s been heart-opening and you know like comfort-zone-expanding for me,” Eagles said from the front steps of her home.
“It feels like there was something like ‘meant to be’ about it,” she said of meeting Bryant. “We sort of intercepted him in a moment and kind of welcomed him in.”
“He has a lot of charisma and brings a lot of energy to this space,” Finis said.
Another neighbor, theology professor Ken Young, calls Bryant a one-man stimulus program.
Bryant admits he’s sold drugs, and has a record he’s not proud of, but he has also found new joy in helping out in the neighborhood. He got his old job back at the Sabathani Community Center food shelf less than a mile away. And though he still has strong feelings about the police and the National Guard, who were part of the state’s response to the protests, he’s changed his focus.
“This is my purpose,” he said. “This is what I’m here to do. I just wanna give. I don’t care about anything else. I love this job. I love this job. I might not get paid as much as I would like, but I get paid in gratification.”
“This is what I wanna do. … I wanna bring people up, I wanna open people’s eyes, I want everybody to be cool with each other,” Bryant said.
‘Happiest I’ve ever been’
In early June, Bryant brought home a carload of food from Sabathani, part of which he distributed to people at 38th and Chicago. He pushed a wheelbarrow of frozen meat down to the stands that have popped up with free food and drinks, and thrust packages of frozen meat into grateful hands.
“I’m the happiest I have ever, ever been,” he said. “I’m putting things together for people, and it’s just coming together. I love giving stuff away, for real.”
Laura Wennstrom, who lives across the street, said this has been one of most anxiety-inducing times of her life, but as the neighborhood has come together during the pandemic and protests, “I think that the neighborhood community has really diffused the tension and diffused the panic.” (Wennstrom noted that many nonprofits, churches and black-owned businesses have come together to start The Real Minneapolis: The Intersection of Hope to raise money for the neighborhood.)
Another neighbor, Travis Atkinson, said he didn’t know his neighbors very well before. Now he and his wife are rethinking previous plans to rent out their duplex and buy a home elsewhere.
Bryant has been part of that process as they’ve rallied around him. Eagles and Finis started a gofundme.com to help him get enough money together to rent his own apartment and support his daughters.
“While nobody is immune to systemic and individual racism, Terrell has given us deeper insight into what it means to be poor and black in America and we have taught him how to compost and be a good feminist,” they wrote on the GoFundMe page.
After handing out much of the frozen meat at 38th and Chicago, Bryant took the rest for a neighborhood barbecue in Young’s backyard. He worked the grill all night, as neighbors strolled in and out.
It was his way of saying thank you.
Deena Winter is a freelance journalist in the Twin Cities with backgrounds in investigative reporting, government and public safety.