These Black teens are turning 18 in Tamir Rice’s America
USA TODAY Network
They aspire to be businessmen, artists and president of the United States.
Some want to change their communities by removing blight and closing the wealth gap between whites and minorities. Others are bound for the military, historically Black colleges or the Ivy League.
These 18-year-old Black men from across the U.S. want to make their mark. But the nation's long history of violence and oppression against African Americans suggests the odds are against them. A 2019 study by the University of Michigan, Rutgers University and Washington University found police use-of-force was the sixth-leading cause of death for young Black men.
Already, they have endured the trauma of watching video footage of other Black men, such as George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and Ahmaud Arbery, die after encounters with police or neighborhood vigilantes. Some have been marginalized by their classmates, discriminated against by adults who were supposed to protect them. Others grew up surrounded by the hardness of poverty.
And still they celebrate their culture, passions and the promise of what adulthood might bring.
Tamir Rice was also meant to turn 18 this year. The 12-year-old Black child was shot to death by a police officer in November 2014 while playing with a toy gun at a park in Cleveland.
A 911 caller reported someone pointing a gun at people and scaring them but indicated the suspect was possibly a juvenile and the gun was likely fake. The 911 dispatcher never relayed that information to police.
When the police car pulled up, the officers immediately jumped out, and two seconds later Tamir was shot. The officers watched the child as he lay bleeding, never providing first aid. A year later, a grand jury declined to charge officer Timothy Loehmann, who shot Tamir.
Ahead of what would have been Tamir's 18th birthday on June 25, the USA TODAY Network talked to 31 teenagers about growing up Black in America. These are their stories.
– Nicquel Terry Ellis and Deborah Barfield Berry, USA TODAY
Black teens reflect on what it’s like to grow up in Tamir Rice's America
Tamir Rice would have celebrated his 18th birthday this week. The USA TODAY Network spoke with 31 Black teenagers about growing up in Tamir's America.
Jarrad Henderson, USA TODAY
He visited his uncle in prison
Amari Ajamu remembers how it felt to hear the full sounds of the Grambling State University marching band for the first time: When the band’s drumline passed, he could feel the marching snare in his chest.
“It was loud, but it was soothing,” he says.
This fall, he’ll fulfill a lifelong dream, becoming the fourth-generation family member to attend the historically Black university in Louisiana. He was accepted on scholarship to play snare on the drumline.
Ajamu started playing drums when he was 3. By middle school, he was enrolled at the Stax Music Academy, deciphering the notes and the lyrics of legends, including his Memphis favorites, Al Jackson and Isaac Hayes.
The songs told soulful, gritty stories. Ajamu wants his music to do the same.
Music, he says, tells “stories from that deep dark place. But it’s also a shining light. A halo in that deep, dark shadow.”
When he was 10 years old, Ajamu made a road trip with his parents and two older sisters to West Virginia, visiting his uncle who was serving a life sentence on crack conspiracy charges from before Ajamu was born. He wondered: What was a mandatory minimum?
His parents explained the particulars ahead of the visit: He couldn’t wear a hat into the prison, he couldn’t wear khaki. Ajamu remembered feeling like the prison was in the middle of nowhere.
“They put it there like … you should be forgotten about when you’re incarcerated,” Ajamu says. “It’s so far away.”
In May, his uncle arrived in Memphis to congratulate Ajamu for graduating from high school. He’d been released last year, after Ajamu’s mom advocated for a reduction to her brother’s sentence.
Ajamu says his uncle’s experience taught him the importance of his own voice. He still wears one of the Black Lives Matter wristbands he and his sisters gave out at school after the 2012 shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin. The death of Trayvon – who was wearing a hoodie and carrying Skittles – later sparked the Black Lives Matter social justice movement.
In April, Ajamu celebrated his 18th birthday stuck at 真人百家家乐官网网站home because of the coronavirus pandemic. He didn’t mind. He passed the day making music.
– Laura Testino, The Commercial Appeal
‘Why can’t people look at me and be inspired?’
The 7/11 clerk’s voice pierced the air, and Mardre Sykes’ stomach dropped.
“Empty your pockets, boy!”
“Why?” responded Sykes, already dreading the answer.
“You’re probably stealing from me.”
Hold up – why would I steal from you? Sykes thought. Why would you assume that?
Sykes, 18, was too stunned to defend himself. He glumly turned out his pockets, proving he hadn’t taken anything.
The encounter nagged at him. Being called “boy,” he says, comes with a lot of undertones: “I know you’re trying to hint at something, that you’re superior. You’re saying, ‘I own you.’”