Five Years After His Murder, Plans for the Tamir Rice Afrocentric Cultural Center Are Underway
On this, a day of giving thanks, I am thankful for Samaria Rice. Thrust into the spotlight five years ago when her son Tamir was gunned down by the Cleveland police, Ms. Rice has turned this tragedy into action – and a week ago on the occasion of memorializing this horrible date, she presented the plans for a Afrocentric Cultural Center in her son’s name at the Cleveland Museum of Art alongside artists, activists, and friends including Opal Tometi (co-founder of Black Lives Matter), Fred Hampton Jr. (son of Black Panther Fred Hampton), artists Michael Rakowitz, Theaster Gates, EJ Hill, poet Kisha Nicole Foster, dancer Lexy Lattimore, and many others.
Standing on stage in the Museum’s Gartner Auditorium, she spoke powerfully and with purpose: “I’m in these rooms that I’ve never been in before – I’m here to make it uncomfortable – because we need change. There’s nothing comfortable about the injustice done to black and brown people in America.” With her son’s smiling face over her shoulder, Ms. Rice announced her plans to create a safe space where children can gather, play music, and create art – to celebrate her son’s love of the arts, and cement his legacy. “The arts helped Tamir with self-expression, and he would want to live in a world that is equitable for all people.” Ms. Rice is partnering with the Cleveland Foundation to create a fund for arts and community projects. The Tamir Rice Legacy Fund will connect youth with outlets for self-expression – and help develop the center that will bear his name.
The building on St. Clair and E. 61st street will be transformed by Robert P. Madison architects into a multi-use facility for youth ages 10-19 to celebrate the history and culture of people of African descent in Cleveland. As their website explains:
Systemic inequities, racial violence and poverty create immense barriers for Cleveland youth seeking to express themselves and produce long-term negative effects on their daily lives. Kids and teens need safe, accessible and inspirational spaces where they can explore their identities, grow and learn without limits, and envision and create change in their communities. The Tamir Rice Afrocentric Cultural Center will fulfill this need. With over 3500 square feet, our building at 61st and St. Clair will include classrooms, visual art and dance studios, exhibit spaces, and a state-of-the-art black box theater.
Ms. Rice has seen the transformative power of the arts firsthand – when the city of Cleveland threatened to tear down the gazebo where her son was murdered, it was Chicago artist Theaster Gates who came to her aid, carefully taking the structure down and relocating it to a safe space in Chicago. In a conversation with activist Bakari Kitwana at the CMA that night, Gates emphasized the need to preserve black spaces and how the arts can play a key role. In the future the gazebo will hopefully be relocated permanently back to Cleveland.
It was a night of joy and tears – the highlight being an incredibly moving poem delivered by Cleveland Arts Prize Winner Kisha Nicole Foster honoring the mothers – especially Ms. Rice – and all the mothers whose children were destroyed by systematic state-sanctioned violence, many of which were in attendance.
This amazing program was organized by Cleveland photographer and activist Amanda D. King – who at the end of the night urged all to donate to the fund for the Tamir Rice Afrocentric Cultural Center via their ioby page. I realize it is the time of year when many worthwhile causes are reaching out for help, but please consider giving what you can – to help transform this grave injustice into something positive.