5th anniversary of Byrdsong’s murder draws 2,000

Breanne Gilpatrick

The Summer Northwestern

Former Northwestern basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong’s pastor Lyle Foster was shocked when white supremacist Benjamin Smith killed Byrdsong during a two-state shooting rampage on July 2, 1999. Foster, now a board member for the Ricky Byrdsong Foundation, was one of about 2,000 people who gathered at Long Field early Sunday morning to support diversity and honor Byrdsong’s memory at the fifth Annual Ricky Byrdsong Memorial 5K Race Against Hate.

“It’s a great show of unity,” Foster said. “It shows that this community supports the fight against hate. I think it has really captured people’s hearts.”

The race along Sheridan Road is the main event for the Ricky Byrdsong Foundation and is designed to raise public awareness about diversity issues, said Sherialyn Byrdsong, Ricky Byrdsong’s widow and president of the foundation’s board of directors. The foundation also held a commemoration ceremony Monday night at Alice Millar Chapel, 1870 Sheridan Rd., to honor the fifth anniversary of Ricky Byrdsong’s death.

Sherialyn Byrdsong said her relationship with her husband has kept her working for the cause.

“Everybody in the community said he just had … a warm and infectious spirit, and that spirit of course remained with me,” she said. “Really what I’m doing is a natural outgrowth of my relationship with him.”

Diann Burns, anchor for CBS 2 Chicago and honorary race chairwoman, met Sherialyn Byrdsong while working on a story a few years ago on the effect witnessing violence has on children. Burns said Sherialyn Byrdsong has poured her heart into her work and that it was easy for her to agree to help when Sherialyn Byrdsong asked her to.

“It’s an easy issue,” Burns said. “Is there anyone who says it’s controversial?”

Burns said the race helps put a face on victims of racial hate crimes and allows participants to meet other people in the area, which helps solve the problem.

“You don’t find much racial hatred if you know someone,” Burns said. “If you meet someone, if you know someone with a different racial or ethnic background, it’s hard to hate them.”

About 100 volunteers helped the event run smoothly, handling registration, directing runners and serving food. Some of these volunteers arrived as early as 6 a.m. One volunteer, Chicago resident Tim Searles, said he wanted to volunteer as a way to support the cause.

“I’m not the athletic type, but volunteering I can do,” Searles said.

Helen Axelrood of Wilmette participates in the race every year. This year she won in the female 70-and-up age category as the only competitor. She said not only is the Race Against Hate a good race, but it also is a for good cause.

“I think it’s important that you don’t forget Ricky Byrdsong’s name,” Axelrood said. “He was in front of his house, and because of his color some lunatic came along and shot him. People have to keep in mind that democracy is precious and people can take that away from them.”

City Reporter Breanne Gilpatrick is a Medill junior. She can be reached at [email protected]