Last Tuesday, the Minneapolis community was floored by the news that Tyrone Williams, activist, entrepreneur, and father of four, was fatally shot just steps away from his mother’s Northside home.
The first wave hit with a Facebook plea from his sister Raeisha Williams, asking if anyone knew who shot her 33-year-old brother. Hours later, reality set in and friends, family and movements came out en masse — grieving and in utter disbelief.
Tyrone Williams was killed by a single gunshot to the abdomen moments after spending “a beautiful day” with his family, which included filming a video of himself rapping a Dr. Seuss book to his children.
Now Minneapolis police are on a manhunt, searching for details that could connect a car seen fleeing the scene after his death.
Tyrone Williams’ murder came days after he stood at the forefront of a public safety community forum on March 28, calling on elected officials to say no to police brutality, while pleading for an end to gun violence among African American males.
“Why do we have a gun problem? It’s because it’s systematically put in place for them to win,” he said. “We need to change the narrative and actually start doing the work. It feels like we’ve been set up over and over.”
While Tyrone Williams entered the national spotlight in 2016 after calling out Joe’s Crab Shack’s racist use of a photo of a public lynching, his impact went far beyond a single viral post. “He was a person of love and light and committed his life to social justice,” his mother Rosemary Nevils-Williams told the MSR.
Tyrone Williams was an active voice in the city, often arriving at the scene of an injustice before crowds and news crews. He helped organize against the police killings of Jamar Clark and Philando Castile and participated in the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock.
His mother also shared that he coached football at Powderhorn where he once played as a child, himself. “He was just a big old teddy bear who believed in his community and his people,” said Nevils-Williams. “He believed in all the social justice movements. He wasn’t perfect, but he was a good guy. He believed in humanity.”
Civil rights attorney and friend Nekima Levy-Pounds called Williams “a true frontline warrior in the fight for justice, a revolutionary and entrepreneur,” in a recent Facebook post.
“To say he was a protector of the community — he embodied that,” said friend and fellow organizer Chauntyll Allen. “He wanted to figure out ways to teach other people to embody that and be that. He was huge on community defense and carried this idea of protecting your own community. He took that to heart. That’s one of the biggest things he taught me as an organizer.”
The fallen community leader also founded the clothing line Black Coalition, which offered up hoodies, tees and other apparel emblazoned with empowering messages.
“I just didn’t know that my son had impacted so many people,” explained Nevils-Williams. “I’m realizing that now.”
Now a hole exists where his brilliance and passion once stood, and a community is struggling to deal with the loss. Their overarching call, however, is to not be broken.
“This is painful, but at the same time, his death doesn’t have to be in vain if [we] can come together,” said Pastor Brian Herron of Zion Baptist Church. “Even now, in this death, I think there is a clarion call for everyone to come together and to address the issues that we have within our community.”
Allen agreed. “He moved people,” she told MSR. “I believe people are really going to step up and start to address the gun violence and some of the trauma that’s in the community.”
She added that his sister, Raeisha Williams, a former candidate for Minneapolis City Council and owner of the Heritage Tea House Boutique in St. Paul, plans to turn his clothing line into its own foundation. Allen also shared that before his death, she worked with him and a group of organizer friends to expand the brand into community programming and activation. The organization aims to continue the fight for social justice as a testament to his legacy and willingness to create a better future.
“We came up with a mission and principles that were all approved by Ty,” said Allen. The organization’s new principles are based on youth advocacy, education, community engagement, environmental justice and community defense.
“Out of all bad comes some good,” said Nevils-Williams. “Now, folks are really renewing their commitment to not just marching down the street, but also creating programming for the community and the youth.
“Zion [Baptist Church] has committed to opening up their door to do programming with the youth. And, we want to do some intergenerational programming to get our elders back together with the youth. We just want to look at the positive and go forward one day at a time — one day is going to be better than the next.”
Right now, however, the community is still working through its grief. “It is important for us to heal as a community,” said Pastor Herron. “Take comfort in your faith and take the time to grieve.”
Funeral arrangements have been announced for Saturday, April 14 at 12 pm at Shiloh Temple International Ministries located at 1201 W Broadway Ave in Minneapolis. Go here for more details.
The family is accepting donations on behalf of his four children at paypal.me/TyroneMemorialFund.
Anyone with any information about the shooting is asked to call the Minneapolis Tip Line at 612-692-TIPS.
Stephenetta Harmon welcomes readers responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.