Samaria Rice at Cudell Commons Samaria Rice at Cudell Commons
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Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Cleveland Magazine. The article has been republished in honor of the fifth anniversary of Tamir Rice's death on Nov. 22, 2014. For an update, read our 2019 article on Tamir Rice's fifth anniversary commemoration event and his mother's latest project in his memory.

Samaria Rice wrings her weathered hands as she sits silently on the edge of a concrete bench underneath the pavilion at Cudell Commons.

Her eyes fix on the table in front of her, where cardboard posters decorated with pictures of her 12-year-old son are tucked inside a mildewed mound of stuffed bears, Beanie Babies and children’s toys.

“I still feel weak coming over here,” she says, her palms stained orange from painting the small stone wall that encloses the butterfly garden just a few feet away. “Life was taken away from me right here in this very spot.”

Her 15-year-old daughter, Tajai, is on her hands and knees, painting sections of the wall blue that enclose an erratic arrangement of new plants.

“I’m sickened with it,” Samaria says, “that this is the last memory I have to have of my son.”

Yet, she comes anyway — a couple times a week.

At first, it was just for him. For Tamir. 

For her youngest child, who on Nov. 22, 2014, was playing in the park with a toy gun that had the orange safety tip removed when a 911 caller alerted police to a black male who was “probably a juvenile” carrying a gun that was “probably fake.” But when the dispatcher failed to relay all of the information, officers Frank Garmback and Timothy Loehmann responded to the call, driving onto the grass within 5 feet of the boy and firing at him within two seconds of arrival.

She came for the first time on Christmas morning, a bright and cold winter day, to drop off the gifts he’d never open — a basketball, some toy cars and a few teddy bears — and discovered the remembrances the community had already left. There were candles, an old cellphone and a LeBron James jersey placed among a congregation of stuffed animals that included small elephants and a miniature Curious George — Tamir’s favorite cartoon.

The memorial has only grown since. Prayer flags and messages scrawled in permanent marker demand justice on the very spot where Tamir was slain. The butterfly garden, with walls shaped like wings and a path through the center, is being built as part of a community project to transform the setting of Tamir’s tragedy into a place of silent reflection.

Even the nearby wooden posts meant to stop people from driving onto the grass have been painted blue. One bares an orange crown, with a message written in white paint: “Young black king.” Tamir’s name is written underneath it in orange.

The orange, blue and white represent peace, purity and justice — the colors of the foundation Samaria intends to establish in honor of Tamir.

“My son was going to be important and he was going to make a change in the world one way or another,” says Samaria. “There’s a lot of wickedness going on in this world, and you can’t just be a dead cell wasting. I’m out here trying to create some change.”

Behind Samaria and Tajai, teachers guide single-file lines of children along a 50-yard walk from the Cudell Recreation Center back to their classes at Marion C. Seltzer School, where Tamir was a student. When the kids are dismissed at 4 p.m., they rush out of the building en masse, filling the park with laughter, jumping over the walls and into the garden to play.

“No, y’all! You can’t run and hop and jump over the flowers,” yells Samaria, trying to protect the not-yet-budding plants from being crushed. Several of the children give her a hug and ask how she’s doing. A 12-year-old boy rushes up, his eyes wide behind tiny black-rimmed glasses.

“You know I got jumped yesterday,” he says.

“By who?” asks Samaria, pulling on her gray shirt as she stands.

The boy names two kids, but Samaria doesn’t recognize them.

“They wanted to fight, so they jumped me over there,” he says, pointing to the playground behind the pavilion and lifting his head so she could see the scratches on the side of his neck.

“I know a lot of the kids, but I don’t know them by name,” she says. “I know them by their face, and I hope it ain’t who I think it is.”

In losing her son, she’s adopted the other kids of the community as her own.

“My son’s memory is here,” she says. “I don’t think anybody is going to be able to ever forget it.”

Parents and teachers alike greet her with open arms. Even strangers seem to know her and revere her as an important figure in their community.

But that’s not how her story has been painted by the media. The day after Tamir was pronounced dead, local and national media publicized Samaria’s criminal history in an effort to explain why her son was playing alone in a park with a toy gun less than a block from where he lived. Three months later Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, described Tamir as “menacing” and “in the wrong” in a Feb. 23, 2015, article published by Politico Magazine. Four days later, city lawyers issued a response to the family’s wrongful death lawsuit filed in December by claiming Tamir’s death was “caused by the conduct of individuals or entities other than [the] defendant.” Mayor Frank Jackson later apologized. 

In the midst of terrible grief, Samaria was suddenly thrust into the spotlight — not as a mother who had made mistakes — but as someone marginally responsible for the death of her own son.

“I never would allow Tamir to play with no water guns, no nothing, because you know how young boys can be when it comes to a gun,” says Samaria, shaking her head.

It’s difficult for her to retell the story, but she does so in the hopes she can push past it and learn from it. In the months since her son’s death, she’s relocated three times with her daughter Tajai in an effort to rediscover stability and peace of mind. For Samaria, her fight is young. While she’s trying to raise her three other children and guide them through a difficult healing process, she’s navigating her own struggles. She’s working as an advocate for her son in the hopes she can introduce new policies that might shape how police interact with minors and implement laws that could potentially regulate the use of guns. Amid reports released by the prosecutor’s office last month that the shooting of Tamir was “objectively reasonable,” she’s also still waiting — almost a year later — on whether a grand jury will indict the officers responsible for her son’s death.

“He had numerous things to be exposed to, to make sure he stayed on the positive track,” she continues, the tone of her voice boiling as it grows louder. “I always put something in his hands — a basketball, a football, video games — something else besides a damn gun! But I can’t watch everything.”

She takes a deep breath and furls her brow as if trying to make out something far off in the distance. The day her son was shot remains fresh, like the new dirt of the butterfly garden.

“I can’t watch everything,” she says again, the tone of her voice falling flat. She slumps into her seat and lifts her head up, her eyes locked again on the spot where Tamir fell.

“I can’t watch everything.” 

When Samaria was 12 years old, her mother, Darlett Rice, shot and killed her 31-year-old boyfriend, Elbert Burton, at their home in Garfield Heights — then picked up Samaria and her 11-year-old brother, Eugene, at Burton’s mother’s house. 

Although her mother claimed the shooting was self-defense and Samaria testified on her behalf, Darlett was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for murder. 

When Samaria and Eugene’s biological father couldn’t care for them, the siblings spent the next few years bouncing from place to place. “My dad was supposed to be there to pick up the pieces,” says Samaria, “but he couldn’t do it.”

She spent a year with an uncle on a naval base in Norfolk, Virginia, but his lengthy deployments at sea meant that wasn’t a long-term solution. Another uncle tried to take her in for three months in Texas, but his relationship with his girlfriend was on the rocks. So Samaria traveled back to Cleveland and spent the next four years in and out of foster homes and crashing on friends’ couches whenever possible.

“I was exposed to a lot at an early age,” says Samaria, “drugs, guns, violence, fighting, arguments.” 

Those things followed her into her early 20s. She never finished high school, had three children from three different fathers and was in a violent relationship with Tajai’s father, Leonard Warner.

In April 2001, she allegedly held Warner at gunpoint while three assailants beat and robbed him. She pleaded guilty to assault in connection with the incident that June. In December of that year, he allegedly attacked Samaria while wielding a knife and beating her in the head with his fist repeatedly while she was pregnant with their second child. He later pleaded guilty to domestic violence in the case.

“We were running off emotions and just young and wild,” she says. 

Samaria moved into a shelter to seek counseling and assistance to take back her life. During her six-month stay, she gave birth to a baby boy: Tamir
Elijah Rice. 

“I was at rock bottom,” she says. 

Her 8-year-old daughter, Tasheona, was in the care of her paternal grandparents, her 4-year-old son, Tavon, was living with his father on the East Side, her 2-year-old daughter, Tajai, was staying at a cousin’s house, and she was living in a homeless shelter with a newborn. 

“Something popped on in my brain and said, ‘No, you can’t continue to do this,’ ” she says. “ ‘Your life is worth much more than what you’re going through now.’ ” 

While she found stable housing downtown and regained custody of her children, Samaria couldn’t escape entirely. In 2012, she was attempting to move her family to California, where her kids could attend better schools. In what she says was a one-time mistake, she shipped more than 3 pounds of marijuana through the mail from Los Angeles to a residence in Cleveland to raise money to head out West. She got caught and pleaded guilty to drug trafficking. 

“It was a bad decision,” she says. “I don’t know what I was thinking.

“I was living and learning at the same time,” Samaria continues. “I did the best I could as a single mother to not have a lot of that stuff around my children.”

Tamir Rice Memorial at Cuddell Commons

The memorial at the Cudell Commons pavilion continues to grow almost a year after Tamir Rice’s death. 

Tamir Rice Memorial at Cuddell Commons

Tamir was always the first to rise.

He fell asleep sometime after midnight on his bedroom floor while Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen played in the background. His 16-year-old brother, Tavon, normally lived with his father in Euclid but was staying over. He wasn’t feeling well, so Tamir allowed him to sleep in his bed because he was ill. By the time Tavon came downstairs around 9 a.m., Samaria was cleaning, and Tamir and Tajai were eating cereal.

“What’s up with you? You look fat today,” Tamir yelled from across the kitchen, causing his mother and sister to laugh.

“Shut up, you got a big butt,” Tavon said, his face swollen from being sick.

“Ma, he talkin’ about my butt again,” Tamir said, dropping his spoon in his bowl amid a stream of playful laughter.

It was all in good jest. 

Tamir, 5-foot-7 and 195 pounds, was often mistaken for an eighth-grader although he was in the middle of his sixth grade year at
Marion C. Seltzer School.

“He was a gentle giant,” says Samaria. But while anyone who knew Tamir would agree that he was kind and well mannered, he was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at a young age and struggled in several of his classes.

“It was hard to keep him on task,” says Samaria. “He was just a hyper kid that went from one activity to the next.”

In an effort to enhance his education, she enrolled him in an individualized program that offered additional instruction and extra time to complete tests and assignments. Samaria also enrolled him in a mentorship program with OhioGuidestone, a community organization that provides counseling, extracurricular activities and additional resources for children needing assistance. Through that program, Tamir went fishing, sledding and to professional hockey and basketball games. 

He also spent six days a week at the Cudell Recreation Center with Tajai playing basketball and soccer, swimming and utilizing the center’s free Wi-Fi.

“The rec center serves as a focal point in that community,“ says Maryann Fields, center manager from 1997 to 2007 and the wife of current manager, Ron Fields.

The staff knew Tamir and many of the kids who spent time there by name. In some ways, the center functions as a second home for the children of the community, offering judo, boxing and a flag-football league, and art classes through the Cudell Fine Arts Center.

“It’s like an extended part of their family,” says Fields. “The parents feel safe leaving them there because they’re supervised and no harm is going to come to them.”

Most Saturdays, Tamir and Tajai spent the entire day at the center. But they had to finish their chores before they left. On the morning of Nov. 22, Tamir did the dishes and vacuumed the floor while Tajai cleaned her room.

The winter was already off to a rough start, but the weather let up some that week. There was little snow on the ground and a slight warmth in the air. 

When 16-year-old Devin Mims knocked on the front door around 10:45 a.m. to gather Tajai and Tamir, they scrambled to get out the door.

“It was just a typical, regular day,” says Samaria. 

Devin and Tamir were best friends who lived across the street from one another on West 101st Street. The two met when Tamir moved to the Cudell neighborhood in March 2014. When they weren’t at the rec center, they were skating, chasing squirrels in the park or making goofy videos.

“Every time you’d see a group of kids laughing or just hanging around, you would always see him there laughing along with them or saying something funny,” says Devin. 

For Halloween, Tamir, Tajai and Devin helped set up for the annual party at the center. Tamir wore the white mask from Scream, while Devin dressed as a military special operations officer with matching vest and combat boots, and an airsoft gun attached to his hip.

The pellet gun was a relic from Devin’s past, a gift from his father when he was younger. He rediscovered it in the back of his closet last year before moving to the neighborhood.

“There was junk piled on top of junk piled on top of a gun,” says Devin, explaining that the orange safety tip had been bent, causing the gun to lock up. “I cut the orange safety piece off so it would shoot again.”

On Nov. 22, Tamir, Devin and two other boys played with the gun in the rec center’s parking lot, shooting at car tires and each other.

Devin says he and Tamir played with the gun on several occasions during games of hide-and-seek, cops and robbers, and a game in which his cousins pretended to be terrorists and hide in various places within the neighborhood while he and Tamir would try to save the day.

“I was a lieutenant and [Tamir] was a sergeant,” says Devin. “He had a big imagination.”

They spent several afternoons fantasizing about superheroes and fighting crime, hiding out in the center’s game room drawing anime and creating characters for a comic book. In the summer, a couple of weeks before school started, they had a discussion about their preferred superpowers. While Devin picked invisibility and teleportation, Tamir gave himself super strength and the ability to fly.

“If there ever came a time where somebody from a movie or a supervillain tried to destroy everything,” Devin recalls, “he said he would have wanted the power of super strength to stop them.”

Tamir and Tajai returned home for lunch a few minutes after 1 p.m. 

Samaria made them turkey sandwiches and gave them money to go to the corner store for chips and pop before they left the house at 3 p.m. A few minutes later, Samaria walked to the CVS at West Boulevard and Madison Avenue to get medicine for Tavon.

“When I came out of CVS, my body felt numb,” she says. “It was like right there on the corner, God had anointed me from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet.”

She didn’t think much more about it as she walked home. But while she was unpacking her groceries, there was a knock at the front door. Two boys from the neighborhood were standing there. They had come to tell her the police just shot her son. 

Before Samaria could process what was happening, Tavon ran out the door, across the street and toward the rec center.

By the time Samaria arrived minutes later, the ambulance was pulling into the parking lot. The pavilion had been taped off, and police cruisers barred her way onto the scene. 

She was in the midst of chaos. 

To her right, Tavon was being restrained by police. As he screamed his brother’s name, Tavon struggled to free himself and reach Tamir. To Samaria’s left, Tajai sat in handcuffs in the back of Garmback and Loehmann’s police cruiser just a few feet away from where her brother Tamir lay bleeding from a gun shot to the abdomen. 

In front of her, on the other side of Garmback and Loehmann’s cruiser, an FBI agent scrambled to provide Tamir first aid, giving him oxygen while another medic applied pressure to Tamir’s belly.

“There was so many police standing around him in a circle, it was like they were looking for lost change,” says Samaria.

Samaria was finally allowed to see her son just after 11 p.m.

When she arrived at the scene just after 3:40 p.m., it was hard for her to control her rage. She screamed at police to let her children go.

“They didn’t tell me anything, and they treated me like I was the enemy,” she says. “I was trying to get to my son, and they just kept telling me to calm down.”

She attempted to ride in the back of the ambulance with Tamir, but they wouldn’t let her. With three paramedics working to keep him alive, there was no room. Instead, she rode in the front seat, hastily making phone calls to family while they were en route to
MetroHealth Medical Center.

Rocking back and forth next to the firefighter driving the ambulance, she was enraged. “I know the f--- they didn’t shoot my mother-f---in’ son,” she said. “I’ll have all your jobs. I’ll see all you motherf----rs at Pelican Bay [State Prison]. They better hope my son’s alive.” 

Like a mantra that would get her through the evening, she kept repeating, “They better hope my son’s alive.” 

As they entered the trauma bay at MetroHealth, Tamir lost his pulse. 

While doctors rushed him to surgery, Samaria was escorted to the emergency room to wait on news of her son’s condition. Two Cleveland police officers kept vigil on the other side of the room. 

When Tajai and Tavon arrived, they sat quietly beside their mother, a little beaten up, a little broken, but hopeful. Nearby, Warner, Tamir’s father, stood quietly. 

After six or seven hours, a nurse came to tell Samaria that her son was in stable condition and she could see him. 

Samaria almost jumped out of her seat. But what she saw in his room stopped her. 

“The machine was breathing for him, and his tongue was hanging out,” she recalls. “It was like they were trying to bring life into a dead body.”

This wasn’t her rambunctious boy who used to cling to her hip for protection and throw his arms around her neck to kiss and hug her every night before he went to bed. He was alive, but that’s not what she saw.

“My son was dead,” she says. “I was looking at my dead child.”

Samaria sat in a chair beside his bed and held his hand, trying to squeeze life back into him, begging for him to wake. But he never responded. As family came in and out of the room to pay their respects, she held onto him, waiting for any signs of life. When everyone had come to see him, she returned to the waiting room for a respite from the grief. 

But around midnight, Tamir’s internal bleeding worsened. Doctors were unable to locate the source, and Tamir lost his pulse for a second time. He was pronounced dead at 12:54 a.m.

Samaria collapsed, sobbed into a friend’s shoulder and turned to hold her other children for support. She wanted to see Tamir, so nurses guided her down the hall to his room.

“I couldn’t touch him,” she recalls. “They had his body wrapped so I could only see his face. I couldn’t see anything else. His body was evidence.”

Still, she lunged for him, trying to reach her boy. The nurses held her back, forcing her into a wheelchair just out of reach of Tamir.

“I believe my son died at the scene of the crime,” she says now, reflecting back on that day.

It’s easier for her to believe that he died in the park than to believe he suffered through the final nine hours of his life.

“I wasn’t able to get to him,” she says. “I never made it to his side! I don’t know if he was conscious. I don’t know if he could have squeezed my finger. They never let me get next to him so I could do my own observation. Maybe that could have helped him live.”

It’s easier for her to believe she could have saved him.

“Maybe knowing that his mom or his sister was by his side,” she says, “maybe just the comfort of us being there, holding his belly or his chest or wherever he was shot at could have helped him live a little longer.”

It’s easier for her to believe.

“There wasn’t nobody there. If I would have been over there,” she pauses, takes a breath and continues, “he could have had his mom.”

In front of the pavilion at Cudell Commons, there is a spot where the grass does not grow. 

Beside that bald patch of dirt, a few miniature sunflowers sprout out of the ground alongside white-and-purple artificial wildflowers. A Pan-African flag leans out of that strange floral arrangement as if it’s fallen slowly over time. It’s reminiscent of a burial site, a tombstone not yet acquired. 

Only the stuffed animals that watch from atop Tamir’s altar and the children who play among them seem to understand the tragedy that has happened here.

This pavilion, which Samaria and others want torn down, has become a place of contention. It serves as a permanent reminder of an injustice inflicted upon the community and those young lives affected by the loss of one of their own. Against that grief is juxtaposed one of life and rebirth — a butterfly garden built by the hands of children. 

“It’s up to us as community organizers, social workers, activists, advocates and visionaries to come up with ways to bring people together to move forward,” says Shelly Gracon, creator of the Butterfly Project, a program for the building of the garden and activities surrounding it. 

As a graduate student at Case Western Reserve University, Gracon serves as an intern for Cleveland City Council and worked to create a summer program at the rec center that included yoga, self-defense and poetry workshops. 

In July, about a dozen kids in the camp created clay tiles for a Buddhist prayer wheel, broke up rocks for the outer walls, and learned how to craft an entrance out of clay, straw and fiber to help build the garden. 

“This is a world that’s in a lot of hurt,” says Stephanie Chiariello, a teacher from John Marshall School of Civic and Business Leadership and a volunteer with the Butterfly Project.

The summer program gave the children a way to deal with pain.

In a small memorial service, Chiariello presented seven of Tamir’s friends with a brick. They passed it around, each one feeling its weight before following in a silent procession to the pavilion. There, at the very spot where their friend had fallen, they stood with the brick at their feet and their hands clasped.

Chiariello said a few words, and they buried the brick in the mountain of stuffed animals. They laid to rest their grief and anger. They released the weight they had been carrying.

“How do we start to make this a better place?” she asked the kids. “If I’m holding onto this [brick], can I reach out and help you? If I’m holding onto this, can I do anything useful?”

Now, months later, the butterfly garden designed by 23-year-old artist Molly Nagin is taking shape. Large cement stepping-stones imbedded with beads and jewels fill its wings alongside a stone birdbath shaped like an angel and plants meant to attract butterflies. And the brick has since been moved, buried underneath the bald spot where no grass grows.

“Humans are so incredible,” says Nagin. “We can move on and yet be so wounded.”

Samaria and Tajai worked with a counselor last spring to create grief masks. They wanted to transform their own pain and suffering into something tangible.

The outside of Tajai’s mask resembles the Pan-African flag with thick swaths of black, red and green. Samaria’s mask bears bright yellow lips, red eyes and teal eyebrows with brushstrokes of rose and violet paint.

“The outside was colorful, because I have to put on a face like everything is OK,” says Samaria. “I have to be an example for my children. The inside of [my mask] was black for the darkness that I have inside of me.”

While the darkness Samaria speaks of is vast, she has spent the last year fighting to rise above it. After living in a homeless shelter and in a house on the West Side, she now lives in a house on the East Side while finishing up classes at Cuyahoga Community College to get her GED diploma. 

She’s also working to bring national attention to her son’s story. 

It’s why she’s here, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., in mid-September. Samaria is sitting with her hands clasped and her head bowed as if she’s praying in front of an audience at the 45th Annual Legislative Conference for the Congressional Black Caucus. Onstage next to her are Gwen Carr, Lucia McBath and Lezley McSpadden — the mothers of Eric Garner, Jordan Davis and Michael Brown.

“Our prayer is that the lives of your sons will add a redemptive force to this nation,” says Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama’s 7th District, as she stands at the podium during her introduction.

The backs of Samaria’s hands are branded with tattoos she received weeks after her son’s funeral in December. 

Her left hand is marked with “Proverbs 22:6.” It’s a reminder of the verse: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

Her other bears “John 3:16” to signify, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

They are markers of who Samaria is today and the kind of mother she wants to be, the kind of mother who refuses to leave behind her child. 

“Good afternoon,” says Gwen, who sits beside Samaria. With her arms crossed in a black-and-white dress, she has an air of regality about her. She’s still waiting for the Justice Department to finish its investigation into her son’s death more than one year after the city of New York refused to indict the officers involved.

“He said he couldn’t breathe 11 times — 11 times he said he couldn’t breathe — but the callous police chose to take his life,” she says, her thick New York accent accentuating every syllable.

In some ways, Garner’s death on July 17, 2014, was representative of the state of the black community. It sparked nationwide protests utilizing Garner’s final words to coincide with the Black Lives Matter movement, made even stronger by Michael Brown’s death just three weeks later.

“It’s hard to talk about [Michael] to people who never met him,” says Lezley, tears streaming down her face from behind rose-tinted sunglasses, a heart-shaped necklace hanging from her neck. “I could tell you my whole life story, but are you going to believe me? Or are you going to believe what else you heard?”

Officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown six times — twice in the head, four times in his right arm — on Aug. 9, 2014, when Brown stole cigarillos out of a convenience store and shortly afterward had an altercation with Wilson. Brown’s death sparked months of violent protests and riots in Ferguson, Missouri.

Since Aug. 9, 2014, 1,259 people have been killed by police, according to a database by Fatal Encounters, a nonprofit tracking reports of killings as a result of police violence.

“We have to do everything possible to prevent another mother from experiencing this type of tragedy where a life is needlessly cut short as a result of police violence,” says Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a second-term congressman from New York and an organizer of the annual conference.

“In many ways, the tragedy of Tamir’s death represents the lost opportunity in such a profound way of young African-American lives being cut short,” he says. “Those aspirations and dreams will never be realized because of the reckless and criminal act of a police officer who gunned him down.”

While the other women on the panel talk, Samaria appears visibly weighed down. She’s still getting used to public speaking and wants to ensure she’s doing everything possible to keep her vision alive. While others laugh at Gwen’s stories of Garner, who was overly protective of his younger sister and a father of six, Samaria’s lips hardly break a smile. She keeps her eyes on the table in front of her.

When it’s her turn, she’s measured in her words, emphasizing the foundation she hopes to start. It’s little more than a dream right now, but she envisions workshops that have law enforcement and children working side by side, and mentoring programs for inner-city children. When she mentions Tamir, her whole face lights up. Her eyes glisten as she shares all the things Tamir loved in life. 

“He was still watching Curious George at 12 years old. He was a kid. A real kid,” she says. “It is hard to just keep talking about it, but eventually us talking about it will turn into some action and if we can all just stand together and unite together, we can be strong as one.”

It’s a notion all women on the panel

“When people are dying in the streets, this is about politics,” says Lucia, whose 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, was shot by a 45-year-old white male at a gas station on Nov. 23, 2012, while he was playing loud music in a  car. “This is about the politics of the sanctity of human life and preserving our people so that we have a future.”

Samaria understands those politics well. She met Lezley and Gwen for the first time in Washington when they joined thousands of civil rights activists led by the Rev. Al Sharpton in a march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol in December.

“When I first met [Samaria], she was a little shy,” says Gwen. “But afterward, she voiced her concerns. She wasn’t afraid to say what she wanted, how she wanted it done and what they were going to do for her, and I respected that about her because she’s got a definite drive.”

And she’s just getting started. Her work in the Cudell butterfly garden — stone, paint and still-fragile plantings — has created roots for her budding promise. 

In August, Samaria held a peace march and a press conference at City Hall in Chicago. This month, she’s speaking at the United Nations in New York City, driven by the injustice she’s received at home. She even hopes to host some of the other mothers in Cleveland to push for justice. 

“I’m really going to miss Tamir,” says
Samaria, lifting her head to look out into the audience.

“I don’t want his name to be lost or swept under the rug, so I fight hard,” she says. “I love hard.”

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