TAMPA — Andrew and Deanna Joseph know what it feels like to lose a son.
So do Samaria Rice and Michael Brown Sr.
Their late children were young black males whose deaths made headlines: Tamir Rice, 12, Michael Brown, 18.
And on Saturday night, those families gathered to remember Andrew Joseph III, and their own sons, during a ball and fundraiser in the Marshall Student Center at the University of South Florida.
The Josephs' son died when he was 14. He was hit by a vehicle after being ejected from the Florida State Fair in 2014 on Student Day. Today is the second anniversary of his death. His parents spent last week honoring his memory through several events, including a protest Friday for more safety measures at the state fair.
But Saturday's event, which attracted an intimate crowd of 50 people, including several relatives of black males who died violently, was about standing together.
"We have to all have strength," said Michael Brown Sr. "I'm here to try to provide the Josephs a little bit a comfort."
Together the families chatted and hugged. They've become like family, they said, regularly attending each other's events. Together, Andrew Joseph Jr. said, they're battling an epidemic of black lives lost at the hands of law enforcement.
"We'll keep fighting," Brown said. "You can't break us."
Samaria Rice said she has created a close bond with Deanna Joseph because she understands her hurt. Their sons were "just babies," when they died.
"The Josephs have been there for me," Rice said. "That's what we need. We need unity."
Tamir Rice was 12 years old when he was shot by police in Cleveland. He had been sitting on a swing holding an airsoft gun in November 2014.
In August 2014, Michael Brown's death sparked a wave of violence in Ferguson, Mo., and gripped the attention of much of the nation as protests erupted.
It all happened the same year Andrew Joseph III died. After a brawl broke out on Student Day at the fair, Andrew was kicked out with 98 other teens. Thirteen others were arrested. Deputies dropped off Andrew 2 miles from the fairgrounds and never contacted his parents, according to his family.
He died trying to cross I-4 to get back to his ride.
Last week, his family filed a long-planned wrongful-death lawsuit against the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, the Florida State Fair Authority and the Hillsborough County School District. It also alleges the fair has a racist history and that their son was falsely arrested, taken into custody without probable cause.
In the wake of Andrew's death, officials have strengthened security at the fair. This year there are about 300 security cameras, mobile security towers and deputies patrolling in plainclothes and uniforms.
While the fair has made changes, the Josephs have said they'd like to see more. Deanna Joseph said she wished deputies remembered their duty to "protect and serve" the night her son died.
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On Saturday, they remembered Andrew as a straight-A student and athlete.
But Rice held her son, Tamir, in her thoughts, too.
"I'm always thinking of Tamir," she said.
Contact Sara DiNatale at email@example.com or (813) 226-3400. Follow @sara_dinatale.