The 33-year-old entrepreneur owns Fort Bend Memorial Planning Center in Rosharon
ABOVE: Mourners arriving for a memorial of George Floyd at the Fountain of Praise church in Houston. (Credit…Michael Starghill Jr. for The New York Times)
After George Floyd took his last breath, beneath the knee of a Minneapolis police officer on May 25, 2020, his relatives had to make decisions about his final rites. The 46-year-old’s death ignited a worldwide movement supporting Black lives, police accountability and human rights.
Amid COVID-19 and an international spotlight, the man born in North Carolina, raised in Houston, and working in Minnesota, was honored with observances of his life in all three places. The services and his remains were entrusted to a full-service funeral home, 30 minutes south of Houston: Fort Bend Memorial Planning Center in Rosharon, Texas.
Owner Bobby Swearington, 33, and his funeral directors collaborated with out-of-state mortuary homes for a memorial service in Minneapolis, as well as a public viewing and private service in Raeford, North Carolina, before leading arrangements for a grand funeral and burial in Houston on June 9, 2020.
Swearington opened Fort Bend Memorial Planning Center three years ago. He discusses his connection to the Floyd family, running a Black business and serving his own bereaved family after a sibling’s death last year.
Q: How did you get into the funeral business?
A: I can’t really explain what exactly triggered me getting into the funeral business. I can’t remember a life-changing event that inspired me to get into this business, but I’ve been doing this 20 years and it’s pretty much all I know.
Q: What were you doing as a preteen that led you to this career?
A: My first gift is that I’m an organist, a musician. I initially started off by playing chapel services at All Peoples’ funeral home. (All Peoples’ has a location in Rosharon and another in Houston.) From there, it progressed to working on actual services and then I moved into the office. From there, I went to school and I ended up owning a funeral home.
Q: When did you open your funeral home?
A: I left the funeral home I had been at for 14 years in 2014 and set off on a journey to open my own funeral home, and Fort Bend opened in March 2017.
Q: As a relatively new business, how did you connect with the Floyd family?
A: I had serviced a member of their family. When Mr. Floyd passed away, the family reached out. I was contacted the day after Mr. Floyd passed away.
Q: How does it feel to be in the national spotlight?
A: All that our staff was concerned about was making sure that the Floyd family was pleased. When I met with the family, they said that they wanted to have a grand celebration for Mr. Floyd – that they wanted the best for Mr. Floyd.
Q: Do you feel a special responsibility as a Black entrepreneur and a Black business?
A: Yes. Every chance that we get to display excellence, we have to take that opportunity.
Q: What was your secret to success for this high-pressure, high-visibility circumstance?
A: I cannot take all the credit. I have several funeral directors. This was a collaborative effort – not only with my staff, but with the staffs of several funeral homes to make sure we were able to serve the Floyd family in the right way.
Q: You mean the funeral homes in Minnesota and North Carolina?
A: Yes, the Estes Funeral Chapel in Minneapolis and Buie’s Funeral Home in Raeford, N.C.
Q: Were you personally in charge of coordinating the transport of his remains?
A: Yes. When I met with the family of Mr. Floyd, I assured them that wherever Mr. Floyd went I would go as well. We went to Minneapolis to prepare his body. From Minneapolis, we went to Raeford, N.C., for the memorial services there, and from there we transported him here to Houston with the great help of Delta Air Lines. They were very generous in providing us with a private jet.
Q: How did you navigate this responsibility amid the coronavirus pandemic?
A: COVID-19 had been a major concern with the magnitude of this service and the number of people who came out. We wanted to make sure we were exercising social distancing and taking all of the precautions. Delta reached out to us early on and volunteered their resources to make sure we were able to travel with Mr. Floyd across the country very comfortably.
Q: Is there anyone else who was instrumental in making the Floyd memorial services exquisite with touches, such as a white, horse-drawn carriage?
A: I want to give a special shout-out to Mr. Floyd Mayweather. He tried to remain as low-key as possible with his donation, but the $88,000 check was leaked to the public. Mr. Mayweather spared no expense in making sure that Mr. Floyd had one of the most top-of-the-line caskets. I must say that The Fountain of Praise was very accommodating. We spent hours working with their leadership committee, their COO [George Anderson] and Pastor Remus E. Wright to pull this together. It took a lot of logistics – a lot of planning, a lot of security – to make sure everyone was in a safe environment with the pandemic going on. We definitely want to thank them for their great hospitality.
Q: You know the Floyd family’s pain because you lost a sibling last year.
A: Yes, I lost my 29-year-old brother. [Isiah Swearington, also a church musician, had been last seen feeding homeless individuals in southwest Houston in March 2019 before he was found deceased in a nearby field days later.) Losing my brother was one of the darkest places I’ve been in my life. During that time, we were experiencing a very busy time at the mortuary. In servicing my own family – servicing my own mother and my brother – I was responsible for making sure our directors were able to service the multiple families we had that week. It was a great task. And even though I deal with death on a daily basis, I felt like I was as helpless as any other family at that point.
Q: How has that experience influenced how you serve families?
A: When I speak to families now, I am definitely able to speak to them from a place of great empathy. I am much more sensitive to their position and to what they are going through. Watching my own mother, even to this day, grieve my brother is a daily process. I believe that the Lord has sent me through various trials so that I am able to minister to other people. As I minister to my clients, I end up ministering to myself with those same words. I am thankful for the good and the bad. I wish my brother was still here with me. I wish my mother didn’t have to go through this pain, but I believe my pain has been a blessing to so many different families and I believe we are able to connect with families on a greater level because of what I’m going through.
For more information on Fort Bend Memorial Planning Center, please visit https://www.fortbendmemorialpc.com.