CHICAGO — The people of Evanston came together Sunday for the 17th annual Race Against Hate, in honor of the late Ricky Byrdsong, the first African American men’s basketball coach at Northwestern University, who was killed by a white supremacist in 1999.
Organizers of this year’s Race Against Hate said last week’s mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando underscored why the event is still relevant.READ MORE: Mother Has Questions After Police Shoot, Kill Man They Say Was Wielding Knife In Englewood
For the 17th year in a row, runners jammed Sheridan Road in Evanston as a show of solidarity, in memory of a man who lost his life to bigotry.
“The first race was all about Ricky, but as these hate crimes just continue to be – unfortunately – more and more commonplace, it’s much bigger than Ricky,” said Byrdsong’s widow, Sherialyn Byrdsong.
Byrdsong was gunned down while walking his dog near his home in Skokie in 1999. Neo-Nazi Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, who later killed himself. Smith killed one other person and wounded nine others in a three-day, two-state shooting spree before committing suicide in southern Illinois.
Sherialyn said she sees parallels between her husband’s murder and the Orlando massacre.
“The man who killed him was a member of white supremacist organization. The young people who were killed in Orlando were killed because they were gay. So they were both hate crimes,” she said.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Rain Coming As Work Week Begins
Ricky Byrdsong’s daughter, Kelley, was with her father when he was murdered.
“To come together just for common humanity means a lot, because the opposite of that is what took away my dad,” she said.
Before Sunday’s race, there was a moment of silence in memory of the Orlando victims; and, on a giant blackboard, many runners wrote they were racing with Orlando in mind.
“The race is bigger than Ricky Byrdsong. It really is about everyone who has been killed in a hate crime,” Sherialyn said.
Sherialyn teaches 7th grade math in Atlanta area, where she moved in 2009, but she teaches values, as well, and so does the annual race.
“I think that parents and schools especially need to be intentional with teaching kids how to accept and esteem everybody – the value of a human life – and I think that we have to start that at a young age, and it needs to be a part of school curriculum,” she said. “Reading, writing and arithmetic, and just teaching kids to value human life, all human life, it’s just as important as all of the other disciplines.”MORE NEWS: Farmers Market Vendors Pleased As Open Boulevards Program Kicks Off In Logan Square
She also said she can’t understand how the Orlando gunman was allowed to legally buy guns, even though he had been investigated twice by the FBI and was once on a terror watch list. She wants lawmakers to take action to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.