When Tamika Huston went missing in 2004, Rebkah Howard went into overdrive trying to get media attention for her niece. Nearly 20 years later, the world can finally hear Tamika’s story in the new Audible Original series “Finding Tamika.”
Released Thursday, “Finding Tamika” is a neo-noir true-crime drama that tells Tamika’s story through the voices of friends, family and Tamika herself. Narrated, co-written and co-produced by actress and writer Erika Alexander, “Finding Tamika” provides an intimate insight into Tamika’s life.
In an interview with NewsOne, Howard shared her disappointment in the lack of media interest in Tamika’s disappearance. After high-profile cases of missing white women like Laci Peterson and Chandra Levi, she assumed outlets would pick up Tamika’s story.
As a lawyer and PR maven, Howard knew how to craft the right pitch for her niece’s case. But she had difficulty getting outlets to pick up Tamika’s story. It was Black media and Black journalists that kept Tamika’s story alive.
“I got nowhere I’m talking about for months,” Howard said. “And the only inroads that I made was through Black Media. People like the Russ Parr Morning Show stepped up, Tom Joyner and Black America Web.”
She said she finally got a breakthrough with “America’s Most Wanted” after a young Black producer named Tiffany Cross, now the host of MSNBC’s “The Cross Connection,” took interest in the story.
“She spoke to her senior producers, convinced them to send her out into the field,” Howard said. “It yielded one of the biggest tips that we got in Tamika’s case.”
Part of what brought Alexander and Howard together is their shared commitment to telling authentic and engaging stories. Howard said she was pleasantly surprised after her initial conversation with Alexander and her Color Farm Media co-founder Ben Arnon.
“We shared the same vision and I knew that she just would take great care of the story, take great care of Tamika, which meant a lot to me,” Howard explained.
A self-described “Motown of film, TV and tech,” Alexander’s Color Farm Media focuses on telling engaging stories and empowering and elevating the voices of people “who are underrepresented, overlooked, and undervalued.”
While Alexander may be known for iconic characters like “Living Single” attorney Maxine Shaw, she has made her mark as an accomplished writer and storyteller. Working inside the realm of speculative fiction, she writes graphic novels like “Concrete Park,” shaping new archetypes for Black characters.
“I believe in storytelling, and I believe that if we tell better stories, we will get better results,” she told NewsOne. “Storytelling is the best way to provide not insulation, but armor for the future.”
“Finding Tamika” is also the first of five new Audible series from SBH productions, a joint venture between Kevin Hart and Charlamagne Tha God. Alexander said it was a big deal for “Finding Tamika” to be given the prime spot for release. SBH Productions supported the vision and creative freedom to tell Tamika’s story.
“They let us go first out the box…and we were glad to take the lead,” Alexander said. “Shout out again to those two gentlemen who have intentionally lifted Black female stories and put their muscle behind it. That’s a big deal.”
Telling Tamika’s story through the words and experiences of the people who loved her and Tamika herself is a rare opportunity for a Black woman to be represented in her full value and complexity. Only 24 at the time of her disappearance and murder, Tamika’s story gives her the final say on how she is remembered.
“I want her legacy to be more than the girl who was killed and who nobody wanted to talk about,” Howard said. “It was so much more than that. And this allows me through Erika to tell more of her story.”
Alexander and Howard also credited the creative team at Molten Heart, experts in what founder James T. Green calls “conceptual storytelling.” Green worked alongside Alexander and Howard in laying out the foundation for telling Tamika’s story.
Along with colleagues Chad Kouri and Michelle Macklem, Green also helped bring Tamika’s story to life through music and sound. The addition of carefully curated music and sound adds a layer of emotion not experienced with spoken words alone.
“Music plays a very integral role in this,” Howard explained. “We have an entire episode that’s kind of like an interlude that is almost like a musical tribute to Tamika using an original score by Chad Kouri, and it comes at a very heavy time in the series.
Molten Heart’s music supervisor and composer Kouri integrated Ethiopian music into the score in a subtle tribute to Tamika’s Ethiopian heritage. Howard said it was important for the series to show Tamika in her full personhood and not just a girl who was killed.
NPR reported last fall that missing Black women and girls are approximately 15 percent of the country’s female population but close to 34 percent of those missing. Efforts like Our Black Girls and Black and Missing fill in the gaps in coverage and concern for missing Black women.
The Gabby Petito case re-opened the missing white woman syndrome discussion, first coined by the late journalist Gwen Ifill. Black journalists and Black media led the way in highlighting the coverage disparity and covering cases of missing Black people ignored in the mainstream.
“People don’t value black women and girls,” Alexander said. “We don’t often see Black women as full people.”
She noted that Black women are often confined to specific characteristics, such as being strong or sassy.
“They don’t tell the same types of stories [about Black women],” Alexander said. “So if we told [Tamika’s] story from a point of view where we offered her just as vulnerable, innocent but also as three-dimensional as any other character, then she would get the treatment she needed.”