Editor’s note: On July 26, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it will conduct a “pattern or practice” review into the Memphis Police Department.
Before we could see the processional, we could hear it.
There was a drumbeat. My soul remembered that there has always been a drumbeat.
Donned in white, Ekpe Abioto and an African-inspired musical ensemble drummed their way down the aisle of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, reflecting the collective rhythm of our hearts. In that sound, we found ourselves and our heartbeat and then felt that rhythm in each other. Our hearts began to beat together. Directed by Abioto, we lifted our voices in call and response, repeating this chorus:
“We love you, Tyre. We feel your heartbeat. We love you, Tyre. Your spirit is free.”
If ever there was an ushering of spirit in a house of worship, it was at Wednesday’s Celebration of Life of Tyre DeAndre Nichols.
Tyre Nichols was brutally beaten by Memphis police Jan. 7 and died of his injuries Jan. 10. Music carried us on this journey of grief and rage, lament and loss.
During her words of comfort, Rev. Dr. Rosalyn Nichols, pastor of Freedom’s Chapel Christian Church sang, “Like a castle built upon a sandy beach, gone too soon. … Born to amuse, to inspire, to delight. Here one day, gone one night. … Gone too soon.”
Tiffany Rachal, the mother of Jalen Randle who was killed by Houston police in 2022, sang “Total Praise”: “I will lift mine eyes to the hills/ Knowing my help is coming from you… You are the source of my life, you are the source of my strength.”
There was a drumbeat.
If you have been in most Black church spaces for any length of time, you know there is a distinctive cadence of Black preaching. A musical and poetic quality that feels drumlike.
We felt the cadence as Rev. Dr. J. Lawrence Turner, pastor of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, opened up the service, framing our time as “… to be of comfort and support to this family. … As Memphis demands justice and as our nation awaits justice…”
“We have come this far by faith, serving notice, and that we shall overcome,” he said.
Want to report your encounter with police?
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Tell them about it here: https://civilrights.justice.gov/report/
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris declared in that familiar cadence: “This violent act was not in pursuit of public safety. It was not in the interest of keeping the public safe… When we talk about public safety, let us understand what it means in its truest form: Tyre Nichols should have been safe.”
She recited Luke 1:79: “God will help us to shine a light upon those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.
“Let our memory of Tyre shine a light on the path toward peace and justice.”
Rev. Al Sharpton grounded the eulogy in the Genesis story of the plot of Joseph’s brothers to kill him and throw him in a pit. “Here comes the dreamer, they said to each other. Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of the cisterns and say that a ferocious animal has devoured him.”
In my prophetic imagination, I heard:
Let us kill him and say he resisted. Let us kill him and say he did not comply. Let us kill him and say we feared for our life. Let us kill him and say it was justified
I can also hear Tyre calling for his mother, the haunting wail of his last words. Sharpton said: “He knew if he could just get mother, that they would quit beating him and quit stomping on him… All he wanted to do was get home… Every Black in America stands up every day trying to get home.”
Attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing the Nichols’ family, recognized faith leaders and local activists who are supporting the family and rallying for justice. He called the roll of so many Black people who died by state violence and their family members present at the service. He noted that Breonna Taylor and Tyre Nichols shared the same birthday and birth year. He asked, “Why couldn’t they see the humanity in Tyre?”
There was a drumbeat.
The drumbeat sounds like tears.
Rev. Dr. Earle J. Fisher, pastor of Abyssinian Missionary Baptist Church, offered words of comfort by leading us to say Tyre’s name, and said that in doing so, “As long as you say someone’s name they shall never die… We will see him again.”
I made it home. Sitting at my dining table, I grounded myself in a series of intentional breaths. I am still processing the complexities of public safety, the power dynamics of state violence and the people power that keeps me believing that we will win.
I am still metabolizing in my body, Black children calling for their mothers in times of joy and in times of pain, and how Breonna Taylor made it home and still wasn’t safe.
My heart is somehow both broken and fortified as I wrestle with the tensions of faith and freedom, relationship and ritual, violence and victory, Black death and Black life.
The drumbeat that remains resounding in my heart after this beautiful and heart-wrenching celebration of the life of Tyre Nichols, is this question that seeks a liberatory paradigm shift:
What would it look like to show up for life the way we show up for death?
Rev. Vahisha Hasan is the executive director of Movement in Faith, deeply invested in ways activist and faith communities further collective healing and liberation. She is also board chair of Transform Network, the Rapid Response coordinator for TRACC4Movements (Trauma Response and Crisis Care) and program director at the Historic Clayborn Temple in Memphis.
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