The Cleveland Museum of Art was the site of a sixteenth birthday party for an absent honoree: Tamir Rice, who was shot and killed by a pair of cops outside the Cudell Rec Center on November 22, 2014, when he was just 12. He would have been 16 on June 25.
Now his mother Samaria Rice is launching the Tamir Rice Afrocentric Center, a project of her Tamir Rice Foundation, to provide both creative opportunities in the arts and knowledge of economics and politics for young people ages 10-19.
The fundraiser/kickoff party for the center, which will be located in a building Ms. Rice has purchased on St. Clair at 61st Street, featured a lineup of inspiring speakers and performers, following an introduction by Cleveland stage director Terrence Spivey, a welcome from Samaria Rice and a prayer by Michael Perry.
MC Dante Barry first introduced the ten young men from the Distinguished Gentlemen of the Spoken Word, who kicked things off with their intricate, inspiring wordplay. State senator Sandra Williams spoke and Humble G Tha Fiddla dazzled the crowd with his violin playing and vocals, accompanied by another singer and an interpretative dancer. And while most of the speakers talking in positive terms about building a better world with greater equity and inclusion, spoken word artist Tef Poe lashed out, saying of Tamir’s killers, “Send those crooked cops to hell where they belong!”
Cameroon native and D.C.-based poet/author Pages Matam was a highlight of the evening, mixing passion and humor and telling relatable stories about his mother and her influence on him. He was followed by the keynote speaker, Opal Tometi, one of the founders (all women) of the Black Lives Matter movement. She made fools of those right-wingers who love to smear BLM as some sort of violent radical movement with her thoughtful, inclusive and inspiring presentation. “Tamir is in a better place. It’s time for action — time to stand your ground,” she said, turning on its head the “Stand Your Ground” defense used by the killer in the Florida shooting of Trayvon Martin to escape accountability.
She was followed by another moving presentation, by 14-year-old New Jersey resident Ryciere Scott. He told of losing his mother when he was 8 when, exhausted from working three poorly paying jobs, she ran her car into a gas truck, which exploded. And he talked about how having family there to catch him kept his life on track — his introduction revealed he was accepted at an exclusive prep school and is aiming to be an anesthesiologist.
Cleveland’s Mourning [A] BLKstar were the final musical performance of the evening, offering their soul/jazz music with social/political lyrics. With three strong vocalists and a pair of horn players, their music really drove the evening home.
Finally, Samaria Rice, her two daughters, her uncle Michael Petty and a friend, Elle Hearns, took the stage for some closing remarks. You would have to have been hopelessly hard-hearted or a member of the Trump administration not to be moved by the one sentence choked out by a tearful Tajai Rice who, some may recall, ran out to her dying brother and was grabbed and handcuffed by police who threw her in the back of a cruiser. “Thank you for coming out and celebrating my baby brother’s birthday,” she said. What a brave young woman for being able to stand there and speak at all.
You can learn more about the Tamir Rice Foundation and make donations here.
View the PHOTOSTREAM here.