L.A. high school honors Tyre Nichols with inventive skateboard designs

Five skateboards in a glass-front display case.
Tyre Nichols Project skateboard designs on display at the Alexander Hamilton High School art show.
(Leila Lujan)
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Students of Leila Lujan’s graphic design class at Alexander Hamilton High School in Culver City have worked on computer-driven projects like posters and logos. But their latest project is more analog: skateboards.

On a Friday morning in May, sophomore Emiliano Garcia leaned over a halved manila folder and cut an outline of an image to create a stencil. He designed a clenched, raised fist — one of the symbols of the Black Lives Matter movement — holding a red rose. He told The Times that he considered the design an image of peace.

“I want everyone to know that in this world, even though they may be mistreated, others can make them feel loved and welcomed,” Garcia said.


His creation is part of a collaboration between the class and Cater 2 Sk8r called the Tyre Nichols Project. Cater 2 Sk8r is a mobile shop that provides ice cream and skate gear to youth across Los Angeles. When Lujan sought donations for a class assignment to design boards, Cater 2 Sk8r pitched in 30 skate decks (the flat wooden board the rider stands on).

The assignment that began in September evolved following the death of Tyre Nichols. The 29-year-old Black skateboarder was beaten to death by five former Memphis police officers in January.

An orange truck with stickers of ice cream flavors.
Cater 2 Sk8r, which provides ice cream and skate gear from an orange truck, parked at the Alexander Hamilton High School art show on June 3.
(Leila Lujan)

Cater 2 Sk8r co-owner Stephanie Mack shared Nichols’ story with Lujan’s class and presented her idea to memorialize Nichols with the boards. Some students co-signed the decision and started redesigning boards to uplift Nichols’ life and showcase his impact on the skating community in an art show, which took place on June 3 at Alexander Hamilton High School.

“They learned who he was through this project,” Mack said.

Mack then brought in documentarian Megan Langshore to film the process.

The project aimed to bring awareness to who Nichols was through one of the things that brought him joy and community. “It was an opportunity that Tyre Nichols could be known for who he was,” senior Rubi Aparicio said.

Her board began with the phrase “je t’aime” — “I love you” in French — as the focal point of the design. As she started learning more about Nichols, that changed.


“I saw images of people who made a poster of him saying, ‘I am a man,’” said Aparicio. The phrase became central to the design on her board.

A skateboard with red hearts reads "je t'aime Tyre" and "I am a man."
A skateboard designed by senior Rubi Aparicio reads “je t’aime Tyre” and “I am a man.”
(Leila Lujan)

The phrase “I am a man” was used throughout the protests following Nichols’ death. It has deep roots in Memphis, where Nichols was killed, tracing back to the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike in 1968. After two Black garbage collectors, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were fatally crushed by a garbage compactor, Black sanitation workers across the city protested poor working conditions and the Memphis Department of Public Works’ mistreatment of employees. About 1,300 Black men protested, marching with signs reading “I am a man.” The phrase has continued in Black social movements over the years and has resurfaced in light of Nichols’ death.

As Langshore filmed the students’ process for a documentary on the Tyre Nichols Project, she witnessed how dedicated they were to learning about Nichols and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“They didn’t really know anything about what happened to Tyre,” Longshore said. “They started doing all their own investigation to change the skateboards and take note of what’s actually happening within society right now.”

Posters on display at an art show.
Patrons at the Alexander Hamilton High School art show on June 3.
(Leila Lujan)

Although the project is within the classroom, it upholds a call for police reform writ large. “I realized that we could make an effort to stop police brutality and things taking advantage of Black, brown and people of color’s lives,” Mack said.

Nichols’ story hits close to home for Mack and Lujan. Upon learning about Nichols’ death, Lujan thought about her 20-year-old son and the kids in her classroom.

“These are people,” said Lujan. “These are sons. These are leaders of communities. They are members of our family. It’s not OK, it needs to stop.”

“My children wanted to be skateboarders and at one point one did skate, so when I saw that Tyre was around my son’s age, it really struck a nerve,” Mack added. “That could have been my child.”

A skateboard with a clenched, raised fist holding a red rose above the letters BLM.
A skateboard designed by sophomore Emiliano Garcia with a clenched, raised fist — one of the symbols of the Black Lives Matter movement.
(Leila Lujan)

While Aparicio’s board memorializes Nichols by highlighting the movement, Garcia’s offers love and comfort.


Mack felt like the experience gave Cater 2 Sk8r a purpose. “At first we were just selling ice cream and skateboards, but now I feel like there’s a focus and reason and a mission to try to expose police reform,” she said.

As Langshore filmed the documentary, she said she started to feel optimistic about the next generation.

“It was a sad moment for him, his family and everyone around him,” Garcia said, looking down at his stencil, as Langshore filmed him. “I wanted everyone to know that even though that was a sad event, they’re not alone and they’re welcomed and loved.”