The glow of lanterns and the flicker of candlelight created a somber night beauty in Tobey Park, a familiar destination for Tyre D. Nichols and other skateboarding enthusiasts.
An invitation to Thursday night’s gathering was circulated over social media. It read: “Candlelight Vigil in Memory of Tyre Nichols: Please join us in a peaceful memorial to celebrate the life of our fellow skater and friend.”
Nearly 100 activists and skaters – multiracial and diverse – joined Nichols’ parents at the vigil that came toward the end of the day when five former Memphis Police Department officers were indicted on a string of charges, including second-degree murder in the death of Nichols.
“Tyre would have loved it, all of this,” someone whispered.
Ekpe Abioto beat out a mournful cadence on African drums as candlelight flickered around the table where RowVaughn and Rodney Wells, Nichols’ parents, were seated.
Abioto’s drum fell silent for a moment. Then, as the Rev. Vahisha Hasan, executive director of Movement in Faith, delivered the opening prayer, he started anew, providing what seemed a hallowed backdrop.
“…Lord, Tyre was just trying to get home,” Hasan prayed. “We did not know, God, that he was on his way home to you.… Make Memphis the home that we deserve. We deserve for you to hold us…. We love Mama Row… and how she made a home for Tyre,…”
The sound of weeping wafted through the darkness.
Next came message-bearing speakers – some tranquil; others angry and frustrated.
More drumming amid a chant of “Justice for Tyre!”
“Amber,” who described herself as an organizer, spoke up with force, “…We’re going to be in the streets for Tyre. We’re tired. Here we are again.
“They said they are still investigating.… Don’t just quietly fire them … release the names of those EMTs (suspending pending an investigation). Release the names of everybody on the scene who had a hand in it.…”
Abioto reflected the tenor of that moment with a decidedly louder and more energy-stirring beat.
Then “Mama Row” – Nichols’ mother – addressed the crowd, which showed collective respect.
“I just want to thank you for coming out tonight,” she said. “I just want to say that when you see that tape, it is horrific. I’m asking everyone to be peaceful if you protest… We don’t need to burn and tear up our city.… That won’t help anything.
“… I want each and every one of you to protest peacefully. If you guys are here for me and Tyre, then you will protest peacefully.”
After a closing prayer, Nichols’ family was led through the crowd, back to the front of the park. Everyone followed.
“The family wants to enjoy the skaters now, so let’s get to skating,” someone shouted.
Skateboarders emerged twisting, jumping, “catching air” and then landing on their skateboards.
Cheers and applause punctuated the night as skaters whipped down into the bowls and back up over the ramps.
Their energy was exhilarating as it brought to mind the reason the skateboarders and those watching had been invited to that setting:
Tyre’s love for skateboarding.