On a summer night in 1999, Ricky Byrdsong, an African-American men’s basketball coach at Northwestern, was walking with two of his children down a residential street in Skokie when he was shot and killed by a self-proclaimed white supremacist.
A well-known and beloved public figure, Ricky Byrdsong’s murder shocked the community and served as a wake-up call that racism was still rampant.
His death could have quickly faded into memory, had it not been for his widow, Sherialyn Byrdsong, who created the Ricky Byrdsong Memorial Race Against Hate.
“She was able to turn her tragedy into a public affirmation,” says Kathy Slaughter, director of development at the YWCA Evanston/North Shore, which took over operation of the race in 2006.
Held every year on Father’s Day, the race has become an institution in Evanston. It seems you can’t run along the lakefront or work out at the YMCA without seeing someone in a Ricky Byrdsong T-shirt from one of the previous races.
In 2010, more than 3,700 people participated in the 5K, 10K or youth race, and more than 350 people volunteered to staff the registration tent, hand out water and T-shirts and cheer on the runners as they passed through the streets of north Evanston. Last year, the event raised more than $150,000 for the YWCA to work with local schools on racial justice, anti-racism and violence prevention programs.
Evanston prides itself on being progressive and racially diverse, with one of the largest African-American communities on the North Shore. But that doesn’t mean racism doesn’t exist here.
According to Karen Singer, president and CEO of the YWCA Evanston/North Shore, racism is not discussed enough.
“When we move forward to address certain challenges, the issue of race bubbles up and we have a difficult time constructively handling it without the community becoming very polarized and angry,” Singer says.
She says the Ricky Byrdsong Memorial Race Against Hate is key to raising consciousness.
“It’s a perfect way for us to help raise awareness about the impact that racism and violence have in our communities,” Singer says. “The race is also a call to action and a reminder that we have work to do to make our communities more just and equitable for all their members.”
To register for the race, visit the event website.
Caption: Caroline Glasser of Evanston, Ricky Byrdsong, Jr., and Illinois State Senator Jeffrey Schoenberg, at the 2010 race