Tyre Nichols loved skateboarding. That’s how his friends say they’ll remember himNPR
Updated January 29, 2023 at 3:49 PM ET
In one video, Tyre Nichols is about 17 years old, skating along a mini ramp as the sun paints his hometown of Sacramento, Calif., bright orange. In another clip, Nichols trips off his skateboard while practicing a trick but remains unfazed. Instead, he tries again and again until he eventually gets it right.
Nichols’ childhood friend, Austin Robert, recorded these videos more than a decade ago. At the time, filming was simply a creative outlet for Robert, Nichols and their small circle of friends.
But recently, the recordings have taken on new meaning. One video in particular has been shared countless times on social media in an effort to remember Nichols’ life — not just his death or the harrowing way he was killed.
“I want him to be remembered as the kid smiling in the skate video and not the kid that was fighting for his life,” Robert said.
Nichols, a father of a 4-year-old son and FedEx worker, died on Jan. 10 in Memphis after being brutally beaten by five Memphis police officers at a traffic stop three days earlier. He was 29 years old. The officers have since been fired, arrested and charged with his murder. They are scheduled to appear for a bond arraignment on Feb.17.
Over the past few weeks, people across the country braced themselves for footage from the night Nichols was beaten — footage city officials described as heinous and inhumane.
That’s when Robert’s old home videos resurfaced. Attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Nichols’ family, was among those who shared Robert’s archival footage. He wrote on Twitter: “This is who Tyre Nichols was — a talented and dedicated skateboarder with SO much life left to live.”
“He never wanted to quit”
Across the country, skateboard communities have been holding memorials in honor of Nichols and his love for the sport. Regency Skate Park in Sacramento, where Robert and Nichols met when they were teenagers, is organizing a candlelight vigil on Monday. Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, has also been raising money to build a memorial skate park dedicated to her son.
According to Robert, Nichols was long fascinated with skateboards before he built up the courage to ride one. One day, Nichols decided to try it out and he became committed to the sport from that day forward.
Nearly every day for eight years, he and Robert would meet up with their group of friends and practice skateboard tricks until it got dark. Thursday’s were known as “Thursdays with Tyre,” said Robert. If the two of them were not at a park, they were at McDonalds choosing from the Dollar Menu.
What he remembers most vividly about Nichols was his positivity and “infectious” laughter.
“He always tried to bring everybody together and put a smile on anybody else’s face before his own,” Robert said.
He added that Nichols was like a “scientist” when it came to his dedication to land new skateboard tricks.
“He analyzed everything he was doing wrong and why he wasn’t learning the trick and change all those little things until eventually he would have it down consistently,” Robert said. “He never wanted to quit.”
Friends remember how supportive he always was
Nichols was equally supportive in seeing his friends’ succeed at skateboarding. If his friend was learning a new move, Nichols would set his board down, grab a camera and patiently wait until his friend mastered the trick, even if it took hours, according to Robert.
Nichols’ childhood friend Jerome Neal also remembered how encouraging he could be, saying Nichols was the kind of guy who could “make you feel like you could do anything.”
The two also met at Regency skate park during their high school years. Aside from skating, Neal said, Nichols loved listening to music on his iPod and practicing his videography skills — something the two of them continued to bond over when they became adults.
In November, when Neal visited Memphis, he told Nichols that he planned to start a video production company soon, in part because of how supportive Nichols was throughout the years.
“He was the very first person I told, and he was the first person I said I would want to hire when I got it going,” Neal said.
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AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:
The city of Memphis, and indeed much of the nation, is reeling from the video showing the horrific and fatal beating of Tyre Nichols. The 29-year-old can be seen pleading with the officers, saying he was just trying to go home. Those officers were part of the SCORPION unit intended to tackle rising crime in the community. That unit has permanently deactivated. But they weren’t the only ones on the scene. Two members of the fire department and two sheriff’s deputies have been removed from duty and are under investigation in connection with the incident. Still, the brutality of this incident has Americans yet again asking questions that have become all too familiar. Why did another Black man die at the hands of the police? Why did they unleash such violence upon an unarmed person? And when will this stop?
But right now, we’d like to turn to a remembrance of Tyre Nichols, the very real person at the tragic heart of this story. And before the world saw traumatic images of his deadly encounter with the Memphis police, there were other videos and images Nichols shared online, happier ones, where he shared his teenage passion for skateboarding in his hometown of Sacramento. His childhood friend told NPR’s Juliana Kim that’s how Nichols would have liked to be remembered.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
JULIANA KIM, BYLINE: Tyre Nichols is 17 years old in this video. The sun is bright orange as he skates up and down in the neighborhood. His childhood friend, Austin Robert, says that’s how Nichols spent most of his time as a teenager.
AUSTIN ROBERT: He never wanted to quit. And, I mean, if you gave that guy a headlamp and it got too dark for him to land a trick, he would still try to do it.
KIM: The two met at a skateboard park in Sacramento when they were in high school. Every day for almost eight years, the two would meet up with their group of friends at Regency Park and practice skateboard tricks until it got dark. What he remembers most about Nichols is his positivity.
ROBERT: It didn’t matter, like, what was going on in his life, if – whether it was bad or good, he would still be the same person.
KIM: Robert can’t recall a time when Nichols got mad or was in trouble. That’s why he was shocked to hear that his friend was pulled over and brutalized by police in Memphis earlier this month. Nichols died in the hospital three days later. He was 29 years old. Five police officers have since been fired and charged with his murder. Over the past few weeks, people across the country braced themselves for footage from the night Nichols was beaten. Officials who watched the videos describe them as heinous and inhumane. That’s when Robert’s old home videos resurfaced. Attorney Ben Crump, who’s representing Nichols’ family, shared one of Robert’s videos on social media, saying this is who Tyre Nichols was, a talented and dedicated skateboarder. Nichols was fascinated with skateboarding for a while before he built up the courage to ride one, according to Robert.
ROBERT: The story he told me is that he saw people, you know, skating, and he always thought that that was something that he could never do because it looked like it was so hard.
KIM: Robert says one day, Nichols tried it out, and he became committed to the sport from that day forward. He was also dedicated to everyone else’s success at the skateboard rink.
ROBERT: He would set his board down, grab the camera, and he would film for hours and just wait for you to land this trick. And he would keep you in positive vibes even if you’re getting frustrated because you couldn’t land it.
KIM: That’s what Robert hopes people will remember about Nichols.
ROBERT: I want him to be remembered as, you know, the kid that was smiling in a skate video and not the kid that was, you know, frightened for his life.
KIM: This past Friday, the Sacramento skateboard community held a candlelight vigil at Nichols’ childhood park. And his mother is raising money for a memorial skate park in his honor. Juliana Kim, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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