Darnella Frazier, the Minnesota teen who used her cellphone to record a police officer kneeling on George Floyd, received the 2020 PEN/Benenson Courage Award in a virtual celebration.  

Frazier, at the age of 17, was shopping with her nine-year-old cousin on May 25 when she saw Floyd in a struggle with Minneapolis police. She used her phone to record the incident, which would later spark a global social-justice movement.

PEN America announced in October that Frazier would win the award. In a press release, the literary and free expression organization described Frazier as "quick-thinking and dauntless." 

On Tuesday, filmmaker Spike Lee presented Frazier with the award at the virtual gala and commended her for her bravery.

“With nothing more than a cell phone and sheer guts, Darnella changed the course of history in this country, sparking a bold movement demanding an end to systemic anti-Black racism and violence at the hands of police,” PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said. 

“With remarkable steadiness, Darnella carried out the expressive act of bearing witness and allowing hundreds of millions around the world to see what she saw. Without Darnella’s presence of mind and readiness to risk her own safety and wellbeing, we may never have known the truth about George Floyd’s murder. We are proud to recognize her exceptional courage with this award,” Nossel said.

Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was killed during an arrest in Minneapolis, after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Millions of Americans participated in Black Lives Matter demonstrations after the video's release.

Frazier said she never thought her video would spark a social justice movement. In the aftermath of the video, Frazier sought professional help to cope with the emotional trauma that came with recording the video, TMZ noted.

Past courage award winners include Anita Hill, student activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and whistleblowers for Flint, Michigan's contaminated water.

The US has seen waves of protest since the killing of George Floyd in May, which became a symbol of what many say is systemic racism and abuse of African Americans by police The US has seen waves of protest since the killing of George Floyd in May, which became a symbol of what many say is systemic racism and abuse of African Americans by police Photo: AFP / Angela Weiss