EXCLUSIVE | ASL expert Gloria Alix who translated music at George Floyd funeral 'wanted to take away pain'
George Floyd's family laid his body to rest in his hometown of Houston on June 9, 2020, following weeks of protest over his killing by police in Minneapolis and a public viewing attended by thousands who waited for hours in the hot sun the day before. MEAWW exclusively had a conversation with sign language interpreter, Gloria Alix, who stood in attendance for the hearing impaired in the funeral ceremony.
Alix won hearts for interpreting the music for hours during Floyd's funeral. Born in Alabama on November 11, 1968, in a family of six siblings, Alix moved to Houston in 1980 and got married in 1989, to Keith Alix, Sr. On the day of George Floyd's funeral, Alix won the internet after a clip of hers interpreting the music went viral on the Internet
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On the day of George Floyd's funeral, June 9, 2020, thousands of people gathered to pay homage to Floyd. Several videos and pictures from the ceremony went viral on the internet. Amongst them, was this one video where Alix was seen interpreting the music for the Deaf\HH viewers.
Did you decide to pursue a career in interpreting sign language? Tell us a little about your background
Imagine being in the fourth grade and you are waiting for the bell to ring to go to recess and your teacher says, “No one will go to recess until we finish learning sign language”. My heart would drop every time. I had decided to learn it as fast as possible and make sure my classmates learned just as fast, so we could go to recess. I had no idea this little Alabama girl was being shaped at that very moment in time for a forever passion.
After moving to Houston, Texas and graduating from high school, I decided to pursue my passion for sign language, wanting to connect the Deaf and Hard of Hearing with the hearing world by facilitating communication. In 1988, I started the Interpreter Training Program (ITP) at Houston Community College. After attending for one year life changes happened. I started a family with my now husband of 32 years, Keith Alix, Sr. I was blessed with two bonus daughters through marriage, LaKeisha and Daphne and together we were blessed with three sons, Keith Jr., Jared and JaMarcus.
Even though my life took a turn, I later went back and completed my degree and I have been a Certified Interpreter for over 25 years. I worked at Barbara Jordan High School, and presently working for Houston Community College, Sorenson Video Relay Service, Greater Saint Matthew Church and contract for several Interpreting Agencies. I wake up every morning ready to take on a new task of learning something new and exciting about ASL and the Deaf/HH Community.
The video from Floyd's funeral went viral and thousands praised you for your grit and enthusiasm. You stood there for hours and even interpreted the music and beats. What were your thoughts at that moment?
June 9 will forever be etched in my mind. The services were held at The Fountain of Praise Church where the other interpreter who teamed with me, Charline Smith attended. She was given the task to bring on another interpreter to assist her with the funeral services for George Floyd. I will be forever grateful to her for that opportunity. We only interpreted the funeral services we were not asked to interpret at the cemetery. I think George Floyd is at peace being alongside his mother whom the world heard him calling out for while he was gasping for air. I can hear him now calling out to his Mama and her replying come on my child Mama is here with arms wide open. Being a mother of three sons myself, it was like every time he called out Mama, I just wanted to take away the pain and suffering. I still tear up every time I think about it or hear someone talking about that day.
My mind, body and soul were so full that day. Several times I wanted to run and shout especially when I was interpreting for Nakita Foxx and Kathy Taylor singing. It took all my strength to stay focused on why I was there and my goal was to make sure the family, the deaf and the hard of hearing felt the compassion the singers and speakers were portraying. That day was about George Floyd and his family and not about me. I didn’t realize it had gone viral until the services were over and I have over 100 phone calls and numerous FB messages.
My son, Keith called me and said, “Mama they have a meme of you surfing the web when you were signing for Rev. Al Sharpton when he talked about our past President holding the Bible upside down”. I just laughed and said, I was only doing my job! My cousin, Mattie James called that night and said the people watching though there was only one interpreter signing the entire funeral. I told her that is ok because that means we did our job at teaming (switching places) without distractions. That is a teaming Kudo! Signing is a love that I treasure.
How do you think George Floyd's death impacted millions of people across the world and did you get any messages after the funeral?
Millions of people across the world heard George Floyd’s daughter Gianna at the time only six years old say, “Daddy changed the world”. Gianna will soon find out as she becomes older her words resonated in many hearts and minds nationwide. As millions took to the streets all over the world to make sure their voices were heard, shouting and protesting the words “I Can’t Breathe”. Those were George Floyd’s last words. I believe that was a wake-up call to those who turned a blinded eye to the treatment of those that are considered minorities. TV was not even the same, every channel was talking about George Floyd’s death.
No matter if you spoke French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and the list goes on it was being viewed by millions. I think that was the day the entire world in a long time saw no color and had to stop and take a stand for unity. I received so many positive messages after the funeral and I give all praises to God. I also was approached by many saying, I know you made several hundred dollars for that funeral. I politely said, when I became certified as an interpreter, I decided I would never charge for a funeral or wedding because that was my way as a small gesture of giving back to the Deaf\HH community. Truth be told there is no us “Interpreters” without them “Deaf\HH”.
Derek Chauvin will be sentenced on June 25. Do you think he will get a tougher sentence?
On June 25, I’m sure all eyes will be on the TV again waiting to see what Chauvin's fate will be. I don’t wish bad or harm on anyone, but you can’t think you can harm someone and not face your day in court. My mind thinks back to the little girl, I think was only nine years old at the time. She had to stand there and witness a man that she didn’t know lose his life. I don’t think there’s a particular sentence that would make anyone satisfied, especially George Floyd’s family. Ten years, 20 years, 25 years, no matter the years he gets sentenced it will never bring George Floyd back, but the difference is Chauvin will still be able to hug, write and talk to his family. George Floyd’s family will only be able to visit his grave.
Were you in touch with any of George Floyd's family members — perhaps, his brothers, Philonese and Terrence, when you became a part of the funeral?
Funny you ask me that question. I didn’t realize I knew the family until the day before the funeral when some of the family members came to the church for the soundcheck and set up. The person in charge wanted to make sure those on the program would know the order of the service. I was waiting for them to inform me and the other interpreter where we would stand and I immediately recognized Philonese’s mother-in-law, and two of his wife’s uncles as they arrived. I asked them why they were there and that’s when they reminded me that George Floyd was Philonese’s brother. I was totally shocked because I know so many of his family members and Philonese and his wife were married at the church where we attend and George Floyd was a participant in their wedding. I suppose the phrase, “Small world” is true.
Did you meet George Floyd's children, especially his son Quincy and daughter Gianna? How did the tragic moment resonate with you and what were your thoughts on witnessing children mourning their father's death?
I have not met any of George Floyd’s children, but I did see them at the funeral services. I think it was so much for them to take in for such a tragic situation and being so young, but I can’t speak for them. Being at the front of the church on stage signing I was able to see the children sometimes crying and an adult would wipe away the tears from their little faces or clap if there was a song being sung that they were enjoying. That day was a day to celebrate George Floyd's life and, in my opinion, it was a beautiful service.
What happened to George Floyd?
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, 46, bought a pack of cigarettes at a convenience store in South Minneapolis. A shop assistant believed he had used a counterfeit $20 bill and called the police after Floyd refused to return the cigarettes or pay again. Officers arrived and handcuffed him but when they tried to put him into the squad car, he resisted. A struggle ended with Floyd's face down on the street. That's when onlookers began filming. Derek Chauvin, 44, placed his left knee on Floyd's neck and shoulder, and kept it there for more than nine minutes, according to prosecutors. Two other officers helped pin him down, while another prevented witnesses from intervening. More than 20 times Floyd pleaded that he could not breathe. The video shows him going limp and being carried away by police. He was pronounced dead in hospital an hour later.