District 65 parents of color lead march to cast ballots for equity-focused school board amid contentious election season

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Nick Francis/Daily Senior Staffer

Participants march on the sidewalk past the sign for the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. District 65 parents of color led a march to the polls Saturday.

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 caregivers of color, families and Evanston community members marched to the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center on Saturday, encouraging community members to vote for school board candidates committed to equity. 

“We as a community need to vote like all Black and brown lives matter,” said Karla Thomas, (Kellogg MBA ’05) a march organizer and mother of two children in the district. “Not just put signs in our yard. Not just speak to the matter, but take action.”

A multi-racial group of around 50 community members marched from Trahan Park to the Civic Center, shouting chants that included “Vote like Black lives matter,” “Vote like Black futures matter” and “Vote like Black joy matters.” Throughout the march, some participants dropped campaign cards on doorsteps while organizers played music. Participants were encouraged to vote and contribute to a community art installation being created in a nearby park. A rally followed shortly after, with members of Evanston Latinos also joining the event.

Karla Thomas, wearing a purple and blue tie-dye mask, speaks into a white megaphone while surrounded by participants carrying neon signs.
Organizer Karla Thomas leads chants with the crowd. “This election season has gone so far past the mirage of racial harmony that is Evanston’s favorite past time,” Thomas later said to the group at the civic center. “Every last candidate has had the words racial equity on their lips. (But) many have appropriated the hell out of this word, stealing the audience it commands while standing in front of us, armed to the teeth with weapons of white supremacy.” (Nick Francis/Daily Senior Staffer)

The event, organized by several District 65 parents, including Tracy Olasimbo and Anya Tanyavutti, came just days before the April 6 election and amid a contentious school board campaign. District 65 board candidate Elisabeth “Biz” Lindsay-Ryan — who was endorsed by march organizers — was recently targeted in a homophobic hate crime. Similarly, emails containing derogatory and harmful remarks were sent to school board members in the months preceding school reopenings.

Organizers encouraged community members to support current board members Lindsay-Ryan, Soo La Kim, Joseph “Joey” Hailpern and newcomer Marquise Weatherspoon, all of whom attended the event. 

Thomas told The Daily this election season has been “markedly more overcome with acts of White violence.” In the months leading up to the election, the push for a return to in-person instruction, as well as attempts to defund existing equity initiatives, have caused district-wide conflicts which directly impact marginalized communities, Thomas said. 

As a result, Thomas said community members organized the march in an attempt to prompt change.

Upon reaching the civic center, resident Hope Jones, a mother of two sons in the district, cast her vote and said she appreciated the event’s emphasis on actionable civic participation.

“This will show my kids that not only is (it) important to raise your voice and let it be heard, but there needs to be an action behind that,” Jones said. 

Eva Martin, a first grade dual-language teacher at the Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies, said District 65 is on the right track in terms of equity and inclusion. As a Mexican resident, Martin said that for the first time, the current board is representative of herself and her students, who are mainly Black and Latinx. 

Martin said her experiences with the candidates supported by the organizers have convinced her they’re “racially literate” and will follow through with equity initiatives. She doesn’t trust some of the challengers to do the same. 

“I am here because it’s important for my teaching, for my students,” Martin said. “I am an Evanston resident, and I know my taxes are going to the right place.”

Martin, wearing a blue shirt and a striped mask, holds up a sign stating “D65 doesn’t need to be saved! It is in good hands. It needs your voice and vote!” The sign also has the names of D65 board members Soo La Kim, Elisabeth “Biz” Lindsay-Ryan, Joey Hailpern, and newcomer Marquise Weatherspoon. Martin stands off to the side while event participants march past on the sidewalk carrying signs.
Eva Martin holds up a sign encouraging voters to vote for Kim, Biz, Hailpern and Weatherspoon. Passerbys honked in support as the crowd chanted and presented signs to the onlooking drivers. (Nick Francis/Daily Senior Staffer)

At the event, former mayoral candidate and community activist Sebastian Nalls said many of his former classmates of color never wanted to return to Evanston because of the racism and vitriol they endured in Evanston schools. The city, he said, fails as a community when its “youth feel that this is not home to them.”

Organizer Atena Oyadi emphasized that many Evanston community members hope to move forward in support of equity for students and educators, creating positive change.  

Oyadi said the community must promote inclusion for all students, especially those who are disabled, neurodivergent and “not diagnosed, but needing support,” because they are “imbued with a genius” not recognized nor allowed to grow under the existing paradigm.

For Thomas, the union between disability activists and activists of color means solidarity in numbers. She told The Daily marginalized groups are often systemically pitted against each other, even though their shared goals have been poised toward ending White supremacy. 

“We will not be silenced. We will continue to illuminate your white ways of suffocating everything that’s in your path. We will continue to give voice to your violence. For you, this is about maintaining power,” Thomas said. “For us, this is about survival, and the survival instinct is stronger than your greed for power. We will not be moved. We cannot be silenced. We will not settle. We are Evanston.”

Update: This story has been updated to reflect District 65 parent Anya Tanyavutti’s involvement with the march.

Email: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] 

Twitter: @nick24francis, @delaneygnelson, @jorjasiemons

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