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‘We deeply need healing’ — In the wake of Tyre Nichols’ death, Springfield listens to Black men

Speak Out Springfield, a community discussion on police brutality, took place Feb. 5, 2023 at Pitts Chapel church in Springfield, four days after the funeral of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee.
Gregory Holman/KSMU
Speak Out Springfield, a community discussion on police brutality, took place Feb. 5, 2023 at Pitts Chapel church in Springfield, four days after the funeral of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee.

The Pitts Chapel church in downtown Springfield was founded by enslaved people in 1847. On Sunday afternoon, the newly renovated sanctuary hosted “Speak Out Springfield,” a community reflection on police brutality.

Four days after the funeral of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, roughly 200 Springfield residents gathered to make sense of the 29-year-old man’s death following a severe beating by police officers on January 10.

Attendees included a mix of people of color and white folks. They listened to a panel of nine Ozarks Black men who shared their reactions to Nichols’ death and the circumstances that caused it.

Kyler Sherman-Wilkins, a Missouri State University sociology professor who moderated the discussion, summed up his view of the day's conversation.

“We... deeply need healing," Sherman-Wilkins said. "And so I think that this is going to be one of many conversations that we have throughout time. And not just when there’s a tragedy, but ongoing conversations before there’s a tragedy to preemptively stop these killings.”

The event kicked off with a statement by Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams and the International Association of Chiefs of Police that was read aloud by a local NAACP leader, Kai Sutton.

“The death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of police officers is appalling and indefensible," the statement said in part. "The brutality suffered by Mr. Nichols and the failure of any of these individuals to intervene is sickening.”

A panel of eight Springfield-area Black men shared their ideas and reactions to the death of Tyre Nichols at "Speak Out Springfield," a discussion on police brutality at Pitts Chapel church in downtown Springfield held Feb. 5, 2023.
Gregory Holman/KSMU
A panel of eight Springfield-area Black men shared their ideas and reactions to the death of Tyre Nichols at "Speak Out Springfield," a discussion on police brutality at Pitts Chapel church in downtown Springfield held Feb. 5, 2023.

But the discussion was carried by the panel and audience members eager to share their feelings and ideas.

Justin Houston is president of the Student African American Brotherhood at Evangel University. He talked about his grandmother’s rise to superintendent of a school near Cleveland, Ohio as a way of looking at the overall Black experience in America.

“It’s a long road," Houston said. "It’s a difficult journey, it’s an annoying journey, it takes a strong heart, but looking in our history you can tell every Black heart is as strong as it can be, as strong as any heart can be.”

Gregory Holman is a KSMU reporter and editor focusing on public affairs.