It is June in New York and Manhattan has been transformed. First, the coronavirus shut down the city and then a giant was awoken following the death of George Floyd. Thousands have rallied to the streets in daily protests and poignant memorials have been erected all over the city. It is an historic time that could be poised to change the nation for good despite the sporadic looting and violent encounters which has lead to the imposition of a strict 8pm curfew - the first curfew in more than 75 years.

To capture the atmosphere in Manhattan, here is a snapshot of the past few days, gathered from the personal experiences of friends here.

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Health workers kneel outside Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn. PICTURE: Via Marcus Cheong

Outside Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn, more than 300 frontline workers who have spent months treating coronavirus patients rallied on the streets to take a knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Annie, a doctor who has just recovered from COVID-19 herself, commented that “It felt like true the chains of difference, and indifference were broken in that one moment.”

In Soho, Kate shared that fires are burning on every trash can in her neighbourhood and she wondered where she will buy groceries now that every store in the area has been looted.

On The Upper East side, Travis described the  “anger, sadness, numbness and despair” after dealing with racism for his whole life. Yet he is, nonetheless, thankful that this time is “a sign for people to examine themselves and look inside their hearts."

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Boarded-up buildings on 8th Avenue. PICTURE: Marcus Cheong

In Midtown, Erin who is nine months pregnant is trying to solve the almost impossible problem of how to get to her hospital after curfew, when there are no taxis or hire cars around at night.

Cisco on the Upper West Side described the many frustrating conversations with friends who “don’t get it, don’t know and don’t understand how real this is for others who are black and brown.”

As I walk through Times Square I am reminded of a time just months ago when the space was crowded with tourists, shoppers and street performers. Now, the shops and hotels are boarded up, the restaurants are closed and the iconic monuments are sealed off from the public. A person wearing an Elmo costume and face mask remains as a surreal reminder of the new face of New York.

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Wearing Elmo costumes - and face masks - in Times Square. PICTURE: Marcus Cheong.

In the heart of Times Square, the TKTS booth is sealed off by barricades. The normally crowded iconic red stairs are now barren, save for a single policeman standing guard on the landmark. At the base of the stairs, a mound of 5,000 roses have been carefully placed - 2,500 red roses representing the blood shed by black lives lost, 2,500 white roses representing the hope for change, and all the thorns a symbol of the pain felt at this time. It is a pain that is inescapable, for even the billboards lining the streets feature a simple black background, and the names of the dead appear, one after the other, Ahmaud Arbery...Breonna Taylor...George Floyd.

There has never been a time in the past 14 years living in New York when the city has felt like this. There have been blackouts, hurricanes, floods, plane crashes and recessions, but there was always a sense that New York was greater than those events and that life would soon return to normal. This time, however, there's a sense that the events are of such a magnitude that there will be no returning to the way things were; that this is a pivotal moment in history. At such a time, it seems our words and our deeds will resonate far into the future, so there is a real opportunity to make a difference.

The death of George Floyd has shed a bright light on hundreds of years of injustice. And where there is light, truth, understanding and justice can follow.

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Roses placed in Times Square. PICTURE: Marcus Cheong

Despite the sadness, anger and frustration, there is a quality of hope in the atmosphere. My hope is that if one life, the life of Jesus Christ, given for us 2,000 years ago could change the world for good, then the many lives taken now can also be catalyst for change - in this city, in this nation and throughout the whole world.