On December 23, 2020, twenty-one-year-old Tyler Kobe Nichols was randomly murdered in a knife attack after getting a haircut just blocks away from his family’s Brooklyn home. “It was a weird and senseless crime,” renowned writer/author Paul Auster writes. “A sudden, unprovoked burst of violence, on a tranquil street in a tranquil Brooklyn neighborhood on the eve of Christmas Eve.” Like so many acts of violence in America, Tyler’s murder went practically unnoticed, eliciting just two paragraphs in the Daily News—and that was it. But it altered his family forever.
Photographer Spencer Ostrander was documenting the locations of mass shootings for a book he was working on with Paul Auster when he visited a funeral home and learned about Tyler’s murder. Though Tyler wasn’t killed with a gun, his mother, Sherma Chambers, and Ostrander connected immediately. In collaboration with the Nichols-Chambers family, they forged a new project. Chambers invited Ostrander to document Tyler’s murder and the void it had created in his family. Over the next several months, Ostrander conducted interviews with each member of Tyler’s household and his closest friends. In the natural light of those settings, he assembled a collection of photographic portraits of each person involved in the story.
The work that emerged, Long Live King Kobe: Following the Murder of Tyler Nichols, documents one family’s grief in order to give shape to the human faces devastated by violence. With Auster’s deliberately matter-of-fact text that effaces the sensationalism of crime reporting, Long Live King Kobe re-sensitizes us to the extreme violence to which America has become inured. “Every day on local news there are stories of shootings and stabbings. The next day—what happens to those people’s families?” says Kareem Eusebe, Tyler’s cousin. In Ostrander’s photos, the fragments of trauma aren’t made to disappear. They are rearranged into a celebration of life. “The goal of Long Live King Kobe is to open up a portal of healing and to bring light to as many people as possible.”
Long Live King Kobe builds on the work of the Nichols-Chambers family, which has launched a community-driven foundation of the same name. The Long Live King Kobe Foundation (LLKK) aims to prevent street violence through compassionate and peaceful initiatives and to support families who have suffered from similar tragedies. In a recent series of healing sessions, the LLKK Foundation has brought together mothers and brothers who’ve lost loved ones to violence and has given them recognition and support that city courts and counselors so often fail to provide. As one mother who attended a healing session told News 12 Brooklyn, “These mothers are my strength. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to be standing here right now speaking to you.”
“My vision is to open a community center,” says Chambers. “So that someone who experiences this kind of trauma can speak to someone who’s going through the same thing and heal.”
All proceeds from the book will be donated to the Long Live Kobe foundation. You can learn more at https://www.longlivekingkobe.