George Floyd's uncle from South Dakota featured in GQ Men of the Year edition
A Gettysburg man who is the uncle of George Floyd can be found in the pages of the latest issue of GQ.
Selwyn Jones is in the Men of the Year edition — photographed and featured in a lengthy story with five other men who are fathers or father figures of Black men who were the victims of police brutality.
Jones has taken the recognition in stride, cracking a joke or two. He said with the magazine coming out this week, the response has been fierce with an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 messages on Tuesday.
Jones, 54, lived an unassuming life as a father, husband and hotel owner in Gettysburg until May 25. That’s when his nephew died in Minneapolis. Officers attempting to arrest Floyd pinned him to the ground with one officer holding his knee to Floyd’s neck until he died. It’s a moment — eight minutes and 46 seconds, actually — that sparked outrage and demonstrations across the country.
Officers were called in response to a report of a $20 counterfeit bill passed in a nearby store.
Looking back, Jones said, God put the Minneapolis events into motion. His nephew, he said, was a sacrifice intended to make a difference and spark Jones into action.
“It’s surreal that a tragedy brought a lot of stuff to light — good, bad and other,” he said.
While visiting by phone Wednesday, Jones said the death of his nephew was meant to happen as it did.
“Nothing in the world could have did what him dying did,” Jones said. “It was that day, that time ... all parties involved were chosen. Unfortunately my nephew was chosen to be the belle of the dance, and, boy, did he make an impact and he’s still making an impact.”
When Floyd died Jones said he decided he wasn’t going to take it anymore — the subtle jabs and racial innuendos he’s tolerated much of his life.
“I would have never thought that little old me ... I always knew I was something. I never knew what. Just to be able to put forth the effort for my nephew’s death to make change for peace in the world. That’s a good thing,” he said.
His journey has taken him on a quest to successfully remove the Confederate flag from the police emblem in his own South Dakota community — something he realized had to go once he noticed it. The change still has some in the community angry, he said.
Jones has gone across the country to speaking engagements, one of which took him to his home state of North Carolina, 45 minutes from his home town of Goldsboro.
That was a speaking engagement at East Carolina University in Greenville.
“Holy smokes,” he recalls saying. “We’re going to have some edju-ma-cation today. Everything I know about racism, hatred and control came from 45 miles away.”
He also attended the March on Washington in the District of Columbia in August.
Jones moved to Rapid City in 1999 to play arena football. That’s where he met his wife, Joie. He’s been in South Dakota since, and the couple owns and operates K&J Suites.
Jones said the attitudes of the past — judgements or actions because of the color of another person’s skin — need to stop. And he said he’s not going to stop talking about them until those attitudes change even though he knows he may not see that change in his lifetime.
“I want to be a beacon of light for those who can’t defend themselves,” he said.
How does that happen? Jones said, it takes three things — conversation, education and irritation.
“There has to be conversation. We have to do rallies, sit down and social network where people can go to understand,” he said.
People also have to learn that not all Black people are the same, he said.
Jones said his journey the past few months hasn’t been easy. He said he’s been ostracized in his own community and people in Gettysburg have said the oddest things — like how he must be a clone because he’s just not the same person he was before because he’s speaking out about things he’s never spoken out about before. Others have also made wild accusations about him, he said, but that’s not going to scare him away.
“I don’t have any rabbit blood in me,” he said. “I’m not afraid ... I believe the lord God gave me this job. I’m going to do exactly what I can do until I can’t do it no more.”
The change, he said, is simple.
“Just treat people the way you want to be treated,” he said. “Why is it so hard to respect somebody because they have a different skin complexion? Why? ... I don’t know if I’m ever going to see the change I want, but I’m going to put forth an effort to try.”