Thu 6/14 @ 7PM
Some parents dream of their children becoming household names for their accomplishments. No parent dreams of their child becoming a household name the way Samaria Rice’s 12-year-old son Tamir did when he was gunned down by pair of Cleveland cops while he was playing outside the Cudell Recreation Center in November 2014.
Tamir has become a symbol for the epidemic of police killings of unarmed African-Americans under dubious circumstances. His death is particularly tragic given his age, his obvious innocence of wrongdoing (there’s video), and the officers’ disregard of safe procedures.
But Samaria Rice has been working to make lemonade from this entire trainload of lemons deposited on her doorstep. In honor of what would have been Tamir’s 16th birthday (June 25), she’s presenting Tamir Rice’s [Sweet] Sixteen at the Cleveland Museum of Art, sponsored by the Tamir Rice Foundation she founded to help make a better world for children. The event will feature state senator Sandra Williams, Opal Tometi of the Black Lives Matter Network, hip hop violinist Humble G, soul/jazz ensemble Mourning [A] BLKstar, poet/activist from Cameroon Pages Matam, and the Distinguished Gentleman of Spoken Word.
The event is raising money for the Foundation’s cornerstone project, the Tamir Rice Afrocentric Center, a gathering place for young people ages 10-19. She has purchased a building at 6117 St. Clair, the former offices of a Slovenian newspaper, a dentist’s office and a band practice space, next door to Empress Taytu Ethiopian restaurant. She’s just starting the rehab process and the center should open some time next year.
“It’s got a good foundation,” she says. “We have to pull out drywall, lift the drop ceiling, paint, build a stage, run air ducts, put in glass block windows, a big window for fronts, doors for front. I’m taking my time and making sure things are done right.”
In conversation, Samaria makes frequent reference to Tamir being “in demand,” clearly referring to the power inherent in his name because of what he symbolizes. She’s determined to make the most of that power, raising up other young people to make a better world in a way she was deprived of the chance to do with Tamir.
She sees the Tamir Rice Center as being “different from other centers.” She emphatically notes, will not be a “day care center,” but will offer programs in music, art and a theater program developed by Cleveland’s foremost director Terrence Spivey, to encourage expressiveness. It will also teach kids about economics and how to manage their money, and how to engage the political system, not only by voting but also by running for office to make the change they want to see, and to feel empowered by knowledge of how the system works.
“We’ll have creative expression for LGBT kids — I see those kids suffering,” she adds.
The process of creating Tamir’s legacy has its roots in a production mounted be the young Cleveland-based ensemble Playwrights Local called Objectively Reasonable: A Community Response to the Shooting of Tamir Rice. It had two successful runs at the Waterloo Arts Creative Space in North Collinwood and attracted a lot of media attention. That presentation was directed by Spivey.
Samaria caught wind of the project and wanted to know more. Through her lawyer Subodh Chandra, she was connected with the theater people.
Spivey recalls, “We got in a conference call. We introduced each other. I broke it down: it’s not about someone portraying [Tamir] — it’s about responses from the community. People do go off and do things about people’s families without telling them. I’m not like that; I don’t like to do something without people knowing. I wanted to make sure she was on our side.”
“Tamir is always going to be in high demand; I am in high demand,” she says, explaining her initial wariness. “People reach out to me every day.”
Samaria attended Objectively Reasonable, which featured a cast of actors taking on shifting roles as different types of community members voicing their fear, confusion, anger and dismay about the boy’s death and their experiences with the police. On closing night of the second run, she got up following the curtain call to thank the cast and crew and talk about her son and the impact of his death on her.
As they got to know each other, Samaria mentioned to Spivey that she maybe wanted to do a youth community center after her initial idea to start a school proved to involve too much red tape. They began to have meetings and involve other idea people such as Tom Schorgl, retired head of Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC), who engineered Cuyahoga County’s arts tax.
“I decided to do an Afrocentric children’s center because I want to invest in children,” says Samaria. “There’s so much talent out there but no after-school activities. Kids should not come out of school and have nothing to do. I’m designing a program to make sure we can support parents and kids for the best interest of the children.”
It upsets Samaria that, as she puts it, “This is one of the states I haven’t seen an uprising” as a result of her son’s death. “A million people turned out for a championship but not for police brutality. They can come out for Jay-Z. I don’t have time to deal with the lies America is selling me. You have a mother like me that won’t be quiet. It’s hard to make waves. We have to come together.”
She’s hoping that between its programs helping young people tap into their creativity and ones that teach them how to use the political system to their advantage, Tamir’s death will mean something.
Spivey believes that will happen. “I’m sure we’ll have some great leaders for change coming out of the Tamir Center,” he says.
Tickets to the Tamir Rice [Sweet] Sixteen event are $25. Doors open at 7; program begins at 7:45pm.