Sunsets captured by a photographer hint at the renewal inherent in sunrises and bring to mind the cycle of life of which both are points of reference.
Circumstances so tragic and seared in minds worldwide have people embracing Memphis amateur photographer Tyre D. Nichols and pondering a question: “Where is the humanity?”
There is no way for Nichols’ family to bypass waves of pain as they process his brutish beating by five now-former Memphis Police Department officers and the complicity of a still undetermined and/or yet-not-publicly released number of others.
His parents, RowVaughn Wells and Rodney Wells, through their public demeanor, are pillars of strength for untold numbers of people, who never met their son but feel the pain of what happened to him on January 7th and his death three days later.
On Friday (Feb. 10th), they dug deep into their reservoir of courage, resolve, grace and dignity to welcome the naming of the civic canopy at Tom Lee Park along the Mississippi River in honor of their sunset-loving, 29-year-old. The Hyde Family Foundation, sponsor of the canopy, and specifically Barbara and Pitt Hyde, made it happen.
Barbara Hyde, chair and CEO of the Hyde Foundation, addressed her remarks directly to the Wellses.
“We recognize, Pitt and I, that we’ve never experienced the fear that Black parents must feel when their children leave their homes and they have to wonder will they return home safely. And we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we cannot imagine the unspeakable pain of the loss of a son,” she said.
“We also know we can stand with you, shoulder to shoulder, as we work together toward a more loving and peaceful community and a more just future for Memphis and the nation. And we can do something now, right now, to honor the memory of Tyre.”
Under the shell of the newly-named Sunset Canopy, RowVaughn Wells, with a voice now familiar for its softness and strength, greeted those at the riverside event that included the installation of the first wooden roof beam.
“Good afternoon. On behalf of our family, we would like to thank the Hyde Foundation for making this possible. It’s an honor to have this dedicated to our son and his memory. And we appreciate all the love and support that we have received from our community and all over the world.”
She spoke on from the heart.
“I know my son, right now, is smiling down. … I know he is smiling down right now and he is just jumping up for joy.
“I am going to miss him so much. ‘Ty’ was just a beautiful soul like I said,” her voice trembling as she shed tears. “Thank you all for being here to support our family. Thank you.”
Earlier, before the presentation began, Barbara Hyde said her “mother’s heart” had been touched as she became aware of how Wells was navigating through the death of her son.
The seed of the idea to transition from the Hyde Civic Canopy to Sunset Canopy in “memory of Tyre Nichols and to honor his family’s example of leadership, healing and love” began there.
Carol Coletta, president and CEO of Memphis River Parks, the nonprofit that manages, maintains and operates five riverfront park districts, said the plan had been to announce the naming of Hyde Civic Canopy – the central feature of a redeveloped Tom Lee Park – on Friday.
“Barbara and Pitt Hyde were going to sign one of the beams and let it be lifted up. It would be a small event for them and the foundation. Barbara and Pitt, when this terrible tragedy happened, had been talking between themselves to decide what they might do, how they might honor not only Tyre but also the courage of his parents and how they responded in the worst moment of their lives.
“And their call for peaceful protests, call for change and determination around change but do it peacefully, was such a graceful, courageous move on their part. It was their (the Hydes’) idea to take their name off the canopy and to recognize the beautiful photographs he (Tyre) made of the river and the peace he obviously found there.”
Thus, the Sunset Canopy after “the beautiful photographs he had made of the sunsets on the river” and “in memory of Tyre Nichols and honoring his family for their love and leadership.”
Having arrived a few moments earlier, the Hydes walked over to greet The Wellses before both families took motorized carts down to the canopy construction site. Pitt Hyde fielded my question.
“It was a privilege to be able to do it,” he said. “I think it is so fitting given his love for Shelby Farms and the riverfront. We are just delighted to be able to make this available.”
Referring to his wife’s “mother’s heart” having been touched by RowVaughn Wells, he said, “We were all moved that in such a moment of tragedy, she was able to rise above and speak to all the citizens about peace, and demonstrate but do it peacefully and that that’s what her son would have wanted. It is so much to her credit and an inspiration to all of us.”
Later at the canopy site, Barbara Burress, who has been a constant voice among activists applying street-level pressure in pursuit of justice for Tyre Nichols and his family, along with systemic change, shared the event live on social media.
“I am happy I was able to make it,” she said. “I have a lot of family on my live that is watching and I wanted them to see this moment. They are out of town. I’m just glad of being a part of anything that the (Nichols) family has going to show my support. I am here to the end.”
Nichols’ family, their attorneys and others continue to credit activists for bringing what happened to him to light.
“I guess I am just glad that we were caring enough to tell the story and that people were caring enough to listen and do something about it,” said Burress.
After his wife had spoken, Rodney Wells said, “I would just like to say thank you everybody for this glorious dedication to our son. Like my wife said, he would love this. There is nothing he liked more than watching that sunset on the Mississippi.
“He’s a California kid, so for him to come out here to Memphis and be embraced by all of you is a beautiful thing,” he said.
“We just appreciate everything that is being done in the city and around the world. This is another historic day. We’ve had quite a few in the last few days. And for our family, I think this is the best one.”