MEMPHIS—Tyre Nichols was remembered by his family and friends as a “pure soul,” skateboard enthusiast, photographer, a “little brother” and a beloved son. During the 37th anniversary of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, friends and family of Mr. Nichols hosted a balloon release and memorial service to honor his life and to demand immediate justice. His funeral was held Jan. 17. 

The 29-year-old young, Black man died after a traffic stop by the Memphis Police Department on Jan. 7.  Family and mourners gathered to celebrate the life of Mr. Nichols at M.J. Edwards Funeral Home in South Memphis, sharing light-hearted memories of him and paying respects for his life.

“My mom named him Tyre and that name was so perfect for him. It fit him so well,” Latoya  Yizar, his god sister said.  “I am Tyre’s god sister but we grew up like siblings. He was such a happy kid, just goofy,” she said. “He always had a smile on his face; he was such a joy,” she continued as she struggled through tears.

Angela Paxton, a friend of Tyre Nichols, met him at a church service 15 years ago in Sacramento, California. She flew in from the West Coast to honor her friend. “He was light. Everywhere he went he left an impact which is why everyone is so passionate about this. He was genuinely one of those kinds of men we need in this world and now we won’t have that,” said Ms. Paxton.


When they were teenagers, they enjoyed skateboarding as a favorite pastime and formed a friend group for the hobby.

“He loved life. That’s the way to describe him. He loved life.  He loved people. He loved animals, nature, traveling, and children. He loved the experience of being alive. He thoroughly enjoyed being here,” she said.

“We’re going to put up a hell of a fight. We’re not going down without a fight. We need justice. We need them to be charged with murder,” said Rodney Wells, the stepfather of Mr. Nichols,” speaking about the police officers, who according to the Memphis Police Department, have all been fired.

Mr. Nichols, a Federal Express (FedEx) employee was driving home from work on January 7 when Memphis police pulled him over. There are conflicting reports as to why police stopped and arrested Mr. Nichols that night. He was taken to St. Francis Hospital in critical condition. Reported injuries he sustained included a broken neck and nose, several bruises, brain swelling and kidney failure.  He died three days later on January 10. Officials have not released an official cause of death. On Jan. 24, the Nichols family was expected to release their own autopsy findings from the incident, according to the local Memphis CBS affiliate.

At Final Call presstime, five involved in his death had been fired, according to several local media outlets. All five officers are Black. 

Mr. Nichols loved ones and community members are relentlessly demanding the release of the body camera footage to settle the unanswered questions as to what happened to him.

Jamal Dupree, Tyre’s brother, shared that his brother was “never for the streets” and has “never gotten into a fight before.”

On Jan. 16, Nichols family, along with Attorney Benjamin Crump, discussed their outrage with the incident on the Roland Martin Show. This incident has heated up the controversy on police brutality and police training in the city of Memphis, as Mayor Jim Strickland has claimed to strive to “fix” the police brutality issue in Memphis. Mr. Nichols’ untimely death came a week before the 37th anniversary of the King Day holiday. The civil rights icon was assassinated in the same city in 1968. 

Mr. Wells emphasized the genuineness of Tyre Nichols. “First of all, he’s the greatest kid that you could have as your stepson. When I met Tyre, which was basically 10 years ago, he embraced me like I was his father.” He stated that fellow FedEx employees attended the balloon release for their co-worker on January 14. “The whole second shift was out in the parking lot to release the balloons because of how much they cared for him. He was very, very loved,” said Mr. Wells.

The family also hosted a demonstration January 16 in front of the National Civil Rights Museum, demanding the release of the body camera footage.

Keyana Dixon, one of Tyre’s sisters, shared in the interview with Roland Martin her reflections on her brother. “He was just my little brother. Never in a million years would I ever see my brother’s face on a t-shirt. He was just him. He loved his camera, he captured my whole wedding. He will always be my little brother,” she said.

“This kid was so beloved in the Memphis community and in the Bay area of California that you have people marching in both cities saying ‘Justice for Tyre Nichols,’” explained Attorney Crump.

During the memorial service, activist Kareem Ali shared the immense impact Tyre Nichols’s life had and has on the community. “His spirit is not dead. His spirit is alive. Tyre is alive, and the spirit of Tyre has been moving among the people.”

Ms. Paxton and Ms. Dixon shared that there will be a memorial at a skate park to honor Tyre Nichols, on February 4, in Sacramento.

“We are taking it day by day,” explained Ms. Dixon. “We have to process and grieve but all of us are committed to fighting for Tyre and keeping his life and name alive. The world will never forget Tyre.”

—Zakiyyah Muhammad