a group of people pose for a photo downtown at night, bundled up for the winter weather, some holding signs or skateboards
Members and friends of froSkate gather at Grant Skate Park. Credit: DuWayne Padilla for Chicago Reader

On February 10, Chicago’s skateboarding community gathered at Grant Skate Park for a candlelight vigil in remembrance of Tyre Nichols and all victims of police brutality.

With the horizon awash in baby pink and Creamsicle orange, members and friends of skateboarding collective froSkate huddled together at the skate park to meditate and sing. By the ramps, other community members ladled hot chocolate into Styrofoam cups. In a beanie embroidered with the words “Black Skaters Matter,” froSkate founder Karlie Thornton passed out hand warmers. As both teen and adult skaters launched into kickflips and ramp tricks, the grating sound of board on pavement complemented the solemn flow of song.

FroSkate—the city’s first skate collective centering BIPOC skaters of trans, gender nonconforming, womxn, and queer communities—hosted the vigil at sunset to honor Nichols, the 29-year-old Black man who died three days after being beaten by Memphis police in a traffic stop in early January. According to family members, Nichols went to Shelby Farms, a park just east of Memphis, almost every day to watch the sunset. Vigil attendees were accordingly asked to dress in the colors of dusk.

“Once we found out Tyre Nichols was murdered, we were, of course, distraught,” Thornton said. “But once we heard he was part of our skateboarding community, we were hurt on a whole nother level because this feels like losing a family member. We felt like doing something in his honor, as we would for anyone else in the community.”

As attendee Blake Davis performed a rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” the crowd swayed together in solace. Damon A. Williams, vigil guest and cofounder of the #LetUsBreathe Collective, invited attendees to remember not just Nichols, but all other victims of police brutality. He noted that “community and love” are the solutions to “deal with everything we’ve been going through.” He asked attendees to make eye contact with the people around them and tell them, “I love you.”

As he concluded his speech, Williams’s final message encapsulated the vigil’s prevailing attitude: resilience.

“The only way we can make more freedom is to live and embody freedom,” he said through a megaphone. “Write your poems and sing your songs. But don’t do them alone. Know that you are not an individual—you are part of a collective experience, and we are trying to create this new world.”