Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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‘It fosters a community effort’: Evanston, Skokie rev up for 25th Annual Race Against Hate

Nine+volunteers+pose+for+a+photo+at+the+2015+Ricky+Byrdsong+Memorial+Race+Against+Hate.+All+wear+dark+blue+shirts+that+read+%E2%80%9Cywca+evanston%2Fnorth+shore%E2%80%9D+in+white+font.
Photo courtesy of Kimberly Frazier
Kimberly Frazier (center) with eight other volunteers during the 2015 Ricky Byrdsong Memorial Race Against Hate.

Content Warning: This article contains discussions of violence and hate crimes.

This Father’s Day, residents from the greater Chicago area will gather at Northwestern’s Long Field for a morning of running and community unity during the 25th Annual Ricky Byrdsong Memorial Race Against Hate.

Event organizers said they expect about 4,500 people to participate in this year’s race, continuing a community staple that began in 2000.

The race — organized by the YWCA Evanston/North Shore — commemorates the life and legacy of Skokie resident and former NU basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong.

“He was always present,” Sherialyn Byrdsong, Ricky’s wife, said of her late husband. “Just anything you could ask for in a father or a husband.”

In 1999, a white supremacist shot and killed Ricky Byrdsong while he was walking in his Skokie neighborhood. The father of three was 43 years old.

The act of hate shocked those close to Ricky Byrdsong and spurred them to action.

“This man was killed because he was Black,” said Sherialyn Byrdsong, who now lives in Atlanta. “This is something that continues to be an issue in our nation.”

What started in 2000 as a walk in Skokie to commemorate Ricky Byrdsong’s life eventually turned into the largest social justice run-and-walk event nationwide, according to event organizers.

The run’s mission is to help prevent violence and eliminate racism, according to Erin Venable, YWCA Evanston/North Shore’s vice president of marketing and communications.

She added that all proceeds from the race will go toward the YWCA Evanston/North Shore’s violence prevention efforts and Equity Institute. The institute is dedicated to “promoting racial equality at all levels,” according to the organization’s website.

“We really want people to come out and celebrate … but to also walk away saying ‘I’m a part of something bigger, and I’m committed to educating myself and taking action 365 days a year,’” Venable said.

This year’s race, like past events, has seen wide support from Illinois-based businesses. The Waukegan-based lubricant company Thermoflex is the main sponsor for the race.

Previous sponsors have included the insurance company Allstate and the consulting firm Aon Corporation, where Ricky Byrdsong worked for several years prior to his death. Whole Foods Market has also been a consistent sponsor, according to Sherialyn Byrdsong, providing food and sustenance for participants.

The race has also seen many repeat volunteers and participants since its inception. Skokie resident Kimberly Frazier said she has volunteered for the race for about 20 years.

Every year, Frazier arrives at Long Field with some friends about 45 minutes before the race’s 7:30 a.m. start time to set up signage along the route runners take.

The event’s family-friendly atmosphere and the Byrdsong family’s continued involvement draw her back each year, Frazier said. Frazier, whose children went to high school with two of the Byrdsongs’ children, added that the race is almost like a “reunion.”

“The race distinguishes from other races because it fosters community effort,” Frazier said. “This race is (also) a testament of what hate doesn’t look like.”

The race also draws members of Evanston and Skokies’ running communities. Rogers Park resident Dan Broughton (Kellogg ’82) — a more than 15-year member of the Evanston Running Club — called the annual race “one of the greatest community events” in the city.

With 5-kilometer and 10-kilometer options, the race has a bit of something for everyone, Broughton said. He added that the combination of community and health benefits the race supports is another unique element.

“This is a day in the community that people come together to try to make Evanston a better place and a more just place,” Broughton said. “That’s a wonderful thing.”

Sherialyn Byrdsong said that each year she likes to speak to participants just before the start of the race to remind them of the event’s key messages. This year will be no exception.

“There is no way that I would ever not be at the race as long as I’m alive,” Byrdsong said. “Even if I have to be in a wheelchair, I’m going to be there.”

Email: [email protected]

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