Ricky Byrdsong Race Against Hate imparts timely message in wake of Charleston shooting


Julia Jacobs/Daily Senior Staffer

Sherialyn Byrdsong, widow of Ricky Byrdsong, speaks before the start of the 5K race in memorial of her husband. Sunday marked the 16th annual Race Against Hate in memorial of Ricky Byrdsong, a former Northwestern basketball coach killed in 1999.

Julia Jacobs, Summer Editor

A record number of runners and walkers gathered in north Evanston on Sunday morning for the Ricky Byrdsong Memorial Race Against Hate, a city tradition in remembrance of the former Northwestern basketball coach killed by a white supremacist in 1999.

This year, its 16th, the event paid tribute to the victims of last week’s shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, in which a 21-year-old man shot and killed nine people during Bible study at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The YWCA Evanston/North Shore, which organized the event, encouraged race-goers to write a message in a book to send to Charleston, while Sherialyn Byrdsong, Ricky Byrdsong’s widow, shared words of support before the race’s kick-off.

“My prayer is that those families, those communities and the city of Charleston can find their silver lining in this senseless tragedy, as we have,” Byrdsong said to the crowd of runners at the starting mark. “To honor those nine lives, to overcome hate with love, to become more united than divided and to be a better city than they could have ever been before.”

The Charleston shooting makes clear the need to continue spreading a message against hate with this annual race, Byrdsong told The Daily.

Ricky Byrdsong was killed while jogging with his two children in his Skokie neighborhood in 1999 by a 21-year-old neo-Nazi on a shooting rampage.

“That was 16 years ago, and just a few days ago nine more people lost their lives because of the same thing,” she said. “It’s just terrible, and my heart grieves for those families.”

The Father’s Day event includes a 5K and 10K race down Sheridan Road and along the southern lakefront path, as well as a mile-long loop for children. The event is the YWCA’s largest fundraiser, with proceeds going to the organization’s racial justice initiatives and youth violence prevention programs.

With close to 5,500 participants this year, the race has grown in scope and sponsorship over the near-decade it has been run by the YWCA, said Trimmy Stamell, events and grants manager for the organization. Each the year the course for the 10K race changes to avoid construction at NU, this year looping around the campus in a way that avoided construction on Lakeside Field.

While the route may change, each year the meaning behind the race remains constant, Stamell said.

“It always has its core essence that hasn’t changed,” she said. “It’s really what makes it very powerful … a simple and straightforward message.”

Sherialyn Byrdsong told The Daily that since the first race in 2000, the event has become more family-oriented, allowing for the message of unity to spread to young people.

Bernadette Sanchez, who traveled from Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood with her husband and two children to participate, said the Race Against Hate is welcoming to families because it allows participants like her to push strollers through the course. Sanchez, a psychology professor at DePaul University, said she intends to continue the tradition for years to come.

“We think it’s a great race, it’s really family friendly — but we mostly do it because of the cause,” Sanchez said.

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