When Manchester Central boys’ basketball coach Sudi Lett learned how George Floyd was killed, he was saddened and disappointed. He has not and probably will not ever watch the video footage because it is traumatic for him, he said.
Floyd, a black man, died May 25 after he was pinned down by Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer who ignored Floyd’s pleas that he could not breathe. Chauvin has since been fired from the Minneapolis Police Department and charged with second-degree murder.
“Another senseless murder had occurred that was easily preventable,” Lett said in a telephone interview Thursday while in Chicago.
Lett, a Manchester native and 2003 Central graduate, said he believes Floyd’s death has led to protests in all 50 states and other countries because both young people and white people are speaking out.
“On one hand, you have a generation of youth who are more connected than any time in human history,” Lett said. “You have a generation of youth that’s much more adept to working with different people, seeking out different cultures and are exposed to different cultures. In a way, it’s almost a generational push.
“What makes this different is more white people have joined the cause, so to speak, and joined the cause by educating each other about what is going on ... The thing that’s making a difference, especially in Manchester, is more white people are talking amongst themselves — not being the type of people who want to carry on this type of legacy and tradition has been the difference.”
Lett has done advocate work in Manchester for over 10 years and is in his second year serving as the youth and education coordinator for Granite State Organizing Project (GSOP). The non-profit, non-partisan organization states on its website that it “strives to create communities in which residents accept, respect, and value one another; justice, equity and the democratic process are upheld in all interactions.”
Lett said he wanted to join the GSOP because the organization works toward social justice and equity in a number of areas.
“We have social justice organizing on wages, housing, education, immigration, so many different fronts,” Lett said. “That’s what attracted me to the organization is helping people that need the most help.”
In his role with GSOP, Lett coordinates civic learning opportunities within the Manchester School District and civic engagement, youth leadership and educational reform campaigns.
Lett has not participated in any protests due to the COVID-19 pandemic but said GSOP’s executive director, Sarah Jane Knoy, its clergy organizer, Chris Potter, and several members of its Manchester chapter attended the protests last Saturday at Manchester’s Veterans Park.
Elijah Kendrick, who Lett coached during his time running the Manchester-based Bishop Elite AAU basketball program, helped organize the march that began at Veterans Park last Saturday and a peaceful candlelight vigil that drew about 700 people to Stark Park on Tuesday night.
“Even though everyone has their differences, there’s a sense overall that we protect our city of Manchester,” Lett said. “There have been coordinated efforts with police and other local leaders to produce peaceful protests. We’ve been able to get the message across, highlight injustice and racism and the system of oppression and not have that taken away by looting and stores getting broken into.”
Lett said he has not been profiled by Manchester police, most of his interactions with the department have been positive and that he has a good relationship with Manchester Police Chief Carlo Capano.
The only incident of prejudice Lett has experienced while coaching basketball occurred when his Central team played at Salem High School.
During the game, Lett, who became Central’s coach two years ago after a three-year stint leading Campbell of Litchfield, said the Salem crowd began chanting “USA” at his team, which includes student-athletes of Spanish, Dominican and African descent. Lett said Salem’s athletic director, principal and coach each apologized to him either during or after the game and Central has since played at Salem without incident.
Lett said many of his Central players have reached out to him since Floyd’s death, expressing their anger and asking questions like if or what they should post on social media. If his players feel they need to protest, Lett said he would urge them to consider the health hazards due to the pandemic and also to educate themselves.
“If you feel you need to protest, I completely understand,” Lett said. “My advice would be to take some time, read up on how we got to this point so you have a better idea how to go forward. You don’t want to just go forward off strict emotion because it will be misguided. If they needed books, I’d offer book suggestions for them to read. There’s YouTube. Take a deep dive.”
To prevent what happened to Floyd from occurring again, Lett said both black and white people have work to do.
“Black people, we need to do internal work,” Lett said. “We’ve been under attack. We’re still under attack. We’ve never mourned slavery ... We’ve never mourned what happened to those people. We as our own people have our own things to deal with.
“For white people, you need to do work separately almost. It won’t help you if you come to me and ask what I think. What do you think and why do you think that?”