‘Something in all of us broke’
Activated by the murder of George Floyd one year ago and the ongoing help of allies, Wells Fargo employee P.J. Hill became the vice president of the local NAACP, and his work continues.
Witnessing the now infamous video of George Floyd’s murder, Premier Banker P.J. Hill later said “something inside me broke.” “Something in all of us broke,” he said of his community. “It made people say ‘enough is enough’ around the nation, and even around the world.” His response was to join in peaceful protests and to mobilize, starting with friends and neighbors, and eventually reaching a circle of influencers that would include elected officials, influential business people, and well-known figures in the social justice movement.
“We realized we all needed to play our role, and that if things are going to change systemically, we are going to need all of us.,” Hill said.
Hill grew up in a home just one block from where the horrific scene played out, near the intersection of 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis, now known as George Floyd Square. His father was a pastor at a church nearby, and Hill made many contacts in his neighborhood and beyond as a successful NCAA basketball player for Ohio State.
What started with marching through the streets to draw attention to the injustice of Floyd’s murder led to greater and deeper community involvement for Hill. At one of the first marches, Hill said, he introduced himself to the Rev. Al Sharpton. People he knew kept encouraging him to make more connections, and those connections led to others.
“I am not saying I represent the community, but I am a member of the community, and I re-represent what I see,” Hill said. “The people I talk to trust me to be able to bring their messages forward.”
In early conversations, he got an audience with the Minneapolis police chief and mayor. “I wanted to help restore trust between law enforcement and the community.”
As the 2020 presidential election approached, his focus turned to working with deep-pocketed community boosters on efforts to register people to vote.
“It was about: How do I help people get their power back, by getting them to vote,” he said. “Many people stepped up. It doesn’t matter if you were Native American, Hispanic, a white person, a very wealthy person, or not. We cannot do this without allies.”
Some of his strongest allies all along, he said, have been his managers and colleagues at Wells Fargo, who have supported him in various ways. From calling to check in with him on a personal level, to growing accustomed to news camera crews that waited to talk to him during his lunch breaks, many helped him keep going.
In November, he was elected vice president of the Minneapolis NAACP, which he said fits well with his objectives to continue working for the advancement of his community. For his next project, Hill and a partner are in the process of buying buildings near George Floyd Square, with the intent of providing affordable housing.
He said his role as a father also has helped him sustain energy for the work. Soon after the verdict convicting former police officer Derek Chauvin of the murder of George Floyd, Hill’s first son was born.
“In a world that has been so crazy, to be able to come home and see my son is a way to fill my basket. It brings me so much joy,” Hill said.
Some of that joy will also be present, Hill said, when he pauses to reflect on Floyd, on the day that marks a year after his death.
“There is still a long road ahead, but it feels like we won this battle for accountability, with an officer held accountable for Floyd’s death,” Hill said.
“This will be a day where we are going to be able to turn over a new leaf,” he said of the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s death. “And I hope we are going to be able to say to our allies: ‘I am grateful that you are here.’ You are going to see all kinds of faces out there, in the spirit of moving the ball forward.”