At the 18th birthday celebration of Antwon Rose, Jr. in Rankin on July 12. Photo by Bill O'Toole.

Antwon Rose, Jr. would have been 18 today.

His friends, family and supporters gathered this afternoon and evening in Rankin for a community event to commemorate the birthday of the young man who was shot in the back and killed by an East Pittsburgh police officer on June 18th.

The event was organized by several friends of the Rose family, along with nearby community groups like the Young Black Motivated Kings & Queens and 1Hood.

“1Hood reached out because they wanted to do something in his memory, in his honor. At that point we were already planning his birthday party,” said Jolisa McDonald, an event planner and friend of the Rose family.

The celebration came together in only eight days. While local businesses, churches, and community organizations did much of the donating, organizers said that support came from all over the country.

“We had an Amazon wish list,”said Tye Clarke, a member of 1Hood’s media team. “People were leaving us notes from California and everywhere in between.”

The organizers emphasized that the celebration was meant to be separate from the protests and activism that have gripped the city in the last several weeks.

“We’ve asked people not to protest,” said Nathanial Carter, a pastor and community organizer. “Just come and celebrate his life.  Celebrate being together.”

Clarke agreed. “Just have some joy, refill our love tank, and celebrate what would have been his 18th birthday.”

His sister, Kyra Jamison, tweeted this earlier in the day:

While the banners called it “1st Annual Antwon Rose Community Day,” Clarke said the decision to do it again next year will ultimately depend on the Rose family. “If [Antwon’s] Mom wants to do it again, I’m sure the community will make it happen.”

Organizers expected several hundred people throughout the day. Festivities included a bounce house, face painting and a “pamper station” where young girls could get their nails done.

In addition, Young Black Motivated Kings & Queens donated a U-Haul truck full of backpacks stuffed with school supplies for young students in attendance.

One of the community groups running a booth at the event was Adaptive Behavioral Services, a counseling service in East Liberty.

“We’re here because we support the community but also because there’s a lot of trauma and grief,” said Kevin Jordan, chair and CEO.

While there was not a hint of politics in the proceedings, NEXTpittsburgh spoke to several community members who said they were closely watching the officer’s trial and were not optimistic.

Charlisa Nelson, a long-time East Liberty resident, said, “This is happening too many times…it’s the same players that have been running things in this county for years and years.”

“The world is watching,” she said, addressing District Attorney Zappala.

Michael Rosfeld, the officer who shot Antwon, was formally charged with criminal homicide on June 27th. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for July 27th at the Allegheny County Courthouse.

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.