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Communities Spurred Into Action In The Wake Of George Floyd's Death: 'We Have Such A Long Way To Go'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- As outrage over George Floyd's murder spread around the world, it prompted many to look at their own biases and engage in tough conversations on racial equality.

But now that protests have waned, are people still putting in the work?

As CBS2's Jessica Layton reports, helping hands, kind hearts and open minds -- it's what you'll find outside the Astoria Houses in Queens.

Seven months pregnant and in the hot sun, Lisa Helmi Johanson wouldn't miss a chance to serve lunch and share her smile.


She made it her mission to make a difference, providing food and clothing in communities of color after the death of George Floyd.

"It really ripped me from a place of complacency that I admit and own up to," she told CBS2's Jessica Layton.

Following the death of George Floyd, her organization to promote social equality, called Court Square Justice, was born.

It's one of many groups you'll find outside the NYCHA complex trying to connect with neighbors they may not have known.

"Before this, how much connection did you have to people within the brown and Black communities?" Layton asked.

"I had never come to Astoria Houses before. I've lived in Astoria for, like, a decade," Johanson said. "I realized I had to do something. Showing up in an active, physical way, was really important to me."

"It certainly changed a lot of our lives," said Benham Jones of Astoria Food Pantry. "Certainly a groundswell of those of us who are not members of the Black community understanding this work in the context of solidarity.

Solidarity can be felt in the sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church of Forest Hills. As COVID collided with another tragedy, pastor Jeffrey Courter  says it provided more space for members to self-reflect and, yes, even change their perspective.

"It led to some thoughtful and opening discussions, as far as people not realizing their own biases sometimes," Courter said. "You're never gonna change anything by staying in our little pods of safety."

Some really uncomfortable conversations.

"We did Uncomfortable Conversations With A Black Man," said Book House owner Nadege Nicoll. "Basically racism is not just saying a bad word or discriminating against someone. It is so much deeper, it is so much wider than that."

Through a town-wide book club in Millburn, New Jersey, Nicoll learned inaction can also be racism. The group of 80 or so read several books that explored the history of racism, white privilege, unconscious bias, and how to not only be an ally but an active supporter.

"Taking it one step at a time to go into a more uncomfortable zone where we were willing to look at ourselves and the way we act and how we could make ourselves better," Nicoll said.


"And I think the lesson here, no matter how you've grown this year, is that we can always learn more about others, right?" Layton asked.

"We have such a long way to go. We can definitely learn by listening to others," Nicoll said. "People are going through an unbelievable amount of discrimination in everyday life that I had no idea. So I think that, to me, was very uncomfortable but really taught me to open my eyes more."

Signs for support for Black lives have never been more apparent. Our communities have never been so awakened. It's only the beginning, but it's a better start for the baby Johanson will soon bring into the world.

CBS2's Jessica Layton contributed to this report.

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