On Tamir Rice’s 15th birthday, I stared at his picture until it became my brother’s. Until it became my sister’s. Until it was each and every Black child I could remember.
I’ve struggled to write this story many times. I’ve counted how many I’s are in it. I do not want Tamir’s life (and death) to be a vessel for this story. I want him to have control over what these things mean, to breathe instances, beginnings and worlds between life, death, movement and the traveling to what comes after.
On November 22nd, 2014, Tamir’s body, shot at twice and hit in the torso once, bounced on the wet, snowy ground like the basketball he loved. His blood, flowing and open, traveled into the earth with no sign of resurrection. At some point it cooled and solidified. We know the why and how of his murder. And still, we imagine him resting and rising in power.
My ten year old brother, who also likes Legos and basketball, slid down my mama’s always loose, brown and white staircase railing. And I imagined him dying. I imagine all of us dying, everyday in multiple ways. I don’t know how to get my brain to stop doing this. I have tried.
As he landed on the off-white tile floor and slid halfway to the door, I stopped breathing. I thanked whatever is out there that he survived. I’m still thanking it. And I mourned a little, because each time he does this, each time he exists freely, I will imagine a way and a day when he will not.
I’ve forced my brain to imagine a pastpresentfuture where Tamir is resting in peace and in power. My therapist said studies show that brains can not register death. Spirit says we are not supposed to in this way. There is no current language to express how we continue to become places that will not last.
I want Tamir’s rest to be layups on a full basketball court built out of Lego blocks. A ball in his hand that never goes flat. His face joyous and at ease. His now 17 year old sister Tajai yelling, “Pass me the ball. You travelled!” At 14, she had been tackled, handcuffed and put into the back of a police car while he lay dying on the ground hundreds of feet away from her.
In this imagined rest, they jump rope, ask the spirits to open up the playground and fill it with children who have had to grieve for themselves and others. Amongst them are children who never got the opportunity to. The spirits listen and the ground smiles. This is not utopia.
This is another place that claims rest while allowing unlimited visits to and from family, for Tamir and Tajai to see each other as many times as they want. For them to curse and make silly faces and do homework. For his mother and grandmother to see how his layups have improved.
I wish Tamir were still alive. In wishing, I’ve begun to question how children rest in life and in death. How can he be at rest when he was violently taken away from the world, from his family, from himself? How is rest possible? Is the spirit able to reconcile with the pain, anger, disappointment and fear that comes from murder (by the state, community, family and school system)?
Rest as a verb is defined as, “To cease work or movement in order to relax, refresh oneself, or recover strength.”
As a noun it’s defined as, “An instance or period of relaxing or ceasing to engage in strenuous or stressful activity.”
The intentional foundation and functions of white supremacy in all its iterations blocks the path of rest, reflection and recovery for Black folk. Black children suffer a heavier, more complex burden because society at large considers them to be immature and lacking agency. In order to address the ways that anti-blackness has been perpetuated within and outside of our communities, we must expose the contradictions, cracks and oversights by bringing children into these conversations.
We claim that our emphasis and concept(s) of rest are in the name of Black children but in our attempts to reconcile (and challenge) the historic terrors that Black bodies experience, we have left them out of the conversation. The imaginings we mention and develop are attempts at comforting the living, usually adult persons with little regard to the victim, dead. Even if, especially when the victims are children.
Children have an incredible amount of content and ability to shape the conversation and they must be the leaders, thought makers and creators throughout. They must have agency as fully functioning individuals, capable of deep thought and tough decision making in life, death and the afterlife. We can not do the work if we’re silencing them in any/ all realm(s).
Black people deserve rest. We deserve to be held and cherished and protected.
I do not doubt this. I question what this “rest” is for the living and the dead. How it feels and what it looks like.
What does it mean to rest in and outside of a Black body in an anti-Black world? Is rest an unattainable luxury for us? Can we trust that any spirit is resting when its body has been taken? Where do Black children go when they’re killed? When they haven’t acclimated to this world? Are we in tune with the spirits that have been stuck here or in the in between? When we’re asleep and hopeful, can we call it rest?
Is there a type of rest that can exist in big and small ways? If I am left on the ground in sweltering heat, my body expanding and getting heavier on the pavement, am I resting? When and if I transition from body to spirit, is there a place for me outside of the violence I have experienced? Can I travel towards my family, give my 14 year old sister a signal that I’ll go on to something better? What do you do with the generations of the undead and unrested beneath our bonds, in the ground, inhabiting the rooms with us?
Is rest for a Black child/ body a fantasy or dream? Is it attainable?
What Comes After/ During/ Before?
In Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar’s “Never Catch Me” video, rest, death, joy and control are re-defined and re-explored through dance. The emphasis on the two “dead” Black children leaving out of the funeral home provides an alternate narrative to the process of mourning. The balance of serious and playful tones in the video, highlight the complexity and control that the children exert over death (and the afterlife). Death’s inability to “catch” them is a powerful statement and the fact that they are not running “from” or trying to avoid death separates this narrative from the usual ones we hear. It is a narrative that most adults would not imagine creating.
The video asks, What is rest if not a celebration? A reorientation of space and time? A recognizing of the work? It reminds the viewer that death will “never catch” them. They have caught it.
How do the perceptions of death and rest vary from child, adolescent and adult? What is the difference between resting and feeling rested? What is mourning? Have we been ending for a long time? Where is rest within the conversation of life, love and death? Is rest possible, alive or dead? Are the dead cradled, rocked to sleep? For how long? Is it a deep rest? Is there space to let go? Do we let go? What would this space look like for living and dead children? What would it look like for children to lead the conversation?
When I say rest, there are no conjured images of Emerson’s Walking.
We deserve a specialized type of rest that opens up space for self actualization, love, safety and nourishment. It is both a response to the world around us and a re-visiting of what sustained and restored us before. To rest as a Black person is different than rest for anybody else on this planet. Rest as revolution and as a returning to; an intentional practice that honors our spirit, blood and ritual. It must be attainable for Black people everywhere.
Rest is a world where Black children are protected and honored. It’s this life in the next, the imagined and the built.
It’s what exists beyond. Rest is a guarantee that someone will meet you on the other side. Rest is a place where you get to exist exactly as you are, with no expectation that you’ll need to be something else. Rest is sleep and safety for spirit bone.
I hope that Tamir is there, in that active resting place. Smiling with company and telling them when he needs a break.
And I can sing songs and I can unite with you that I love, you that I like
Look at my life and tell me I fight
This that final destination, this that find some information
This that find some inspiration, this that crack, the instillation
This that consciousness sharpening and fist pump and that bomb detonation
Please don’t bomb my nation, embalming fluid waiting
I got mind control when I’m here, you gon’ hate me when I’m gone
Ain’t no blood pumpin’ no fear, I got hope inside of my bones
This that life beyond your own life, this say this go for mankind
This that outer-body experience, no coincidence you been died
You are dead
Never let you catch me.