Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old who was gunned down on a playground by an erratic “officer of the law” in 2014, is mending her heartbreak by working to open a cultural center in the name of her son.
The planned Tamir Rice Afrocentric Cultural Center will honor Tamir’s legacy by operating as a place of refuge for black children in Cleveland, a space where they can participate in visual art, drama and music, as well as learning civics.
“Nobody is talking about Tamir anymore in Cleveland,” Samaria Rice said. “And that’s sad.”
Through the Tamir Rice Foundation, Rice has already purchased a building for the center. In addition to serving children’s artistic ambitions (Tamir, she said, loved to draw cartoons and make pottery), the center will mentor the young people who come through its doors on how to “dissect and participate in political systems,” something the 41-year-old mother of three says she had to learn after her son was killed as he played.
Rice has already faced opposition to opening the center, a baffling notion, given what she has been through. According to a recent profile by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, someone recently put superglue in all of the locks on the 3,500-square-foot former newspaper building.
“I don’t pay no attention to them,” she said. “They can’t beat me for the simple fact that their child wasn’t killed by the state. I’m going to do it through the grace of God, and I’m going to do it because the city of Cleveland gave me no choice but to do it as far as building my son’s legacy and keeping his legacy alive,” she said.
Next month, Rice is throwing a “Sweet Sixteen” party for the birthday Tamir will never see. She seeks to raise $21,000 to help renovate the space, including new windows and a stage for performances.
She purchased the building in March for $162,680, using part of the $6 million settlement of the wrongful death suit she filed against the city and the two officers involved in Tamir’s death (neither of whom faced a day in jail). The Plain Dealer reports that after lawyers’ fees and costs and payments to other relatives, Tamir’s estate was left with about $1.8 million.
Samaria Rice knows that life can be difficult for black children in one of its hardest cities. She herself watched her own mother, Darlett, go to prison when she was 12. That was about the time she dropped out of school.
But although she may have lacked family structure in her own home, Samaria Rice taught herself about raising a family, with the help of counselors and programs, and enrolled Tamir and his sister, Tajai, in both arts programs and sports, as well as a program called Ohio Guidestone, which she said assisted Tamir in his development.
“That kind of helped Tamir with emotional and coping skills and social skills, which a lot of children lack in the inner city,” she said.
She hopes to bring some of those resources to the new center. She also wants to give kids hope.
“I’m a nurturer and I still had some nurturing to do for Tamir, but I was robbed of that. … I want to see some positivity. I don’t really see a whole lot of positivity coming out of the inner city when it comes to the youth that is suffering … I want the center to give them a sense of hope,” she said.
In addition to optimism, Rice says, she wants to provide the children of Cleveland with life skills to navigate a system that is surely set up against them—things that it takes to become a councilperson or a mayor. And how to make change if their representatives are not working for them.
“Those children that’s coming out of the 12th grade, they’re not talking about it, let’s be honest, like they are in the white schools,” she said. “When it does happen, it isn’t enough. You’ve got some kids out there that want to see some change; they just don’t know how to go about it.
“I gotta do something, you know,” she added. “They ain’t gonna hear me out … I ain’t got time for that. That’s why I’ve got to channel my stuff to the youth because they’re going to be our future. I may not see it in my lifetime, but the center will make sure it gets done, that’s for sure.”
Samaria Rice hopes to complete work and open the center in 2019.
Tickets for the June 14 fundraiser at the Cleveland Museum of Art are $55, and contributions to the renovation are also being collected online.
Angela Helm (The Root)