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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Race Against Hate: Ricky Byrdsong’s Legacy

This+Sunday+marked+the+25th+anniversary+of+honoring+Ricky+Byrdsong%2C+NU%E2%80%99s+first+African+American+head+basketball+coach%2C+in+Evanston%E2%80%99s+annual+Race+Against+Hate.
Emily Kim/The Daily Northwestern
This Sunday marked the 25th anniversary of honoring Ricky Byrdsong, NU’s first African American head basketball coach, in Evanston’s annual Race Against Hate.

Ricky Byrdsong always shared his positivity with those around him, Sherialyn Byrdsong, his wife, said. As the first African American head basketball coach at Northwestern University and a dedicated Vice President of Affairs at Aon Corporation, Ricky’s life was defined by his belief in the potential of others, Sherialyn Byrdsong said. 

His life was cut short by a white supremacist in 1999 while walking near his Skokie home with his two young children. The shooter wounded six Orthodox Jews in Rogers Park on the same day. Despite the pain due to his loss, his family turned their grief into a force for good, founding the Race Against Hate with friends in 2000. 

This Sunday marked the 25th anniversary of honoring Ricky’s legacy and raising awareness of racism and hate. The Race Against Hate is the largest social justice run/walk of its kind in the nation. 4000 participants from over 20 states, the highest number over the past couple of years, gathered this year in unity to stand against racial violence and hate, the highest number over the past couple of years.

 “Life is 10% what happens to you, but 90% how you respond to it,” Sherialyn Byrdsong, said at the event, reflecting on words he shared with his teams. “That 10% was a season, but we have years ahead. We must find the strength and faith to live positively.” 

Sherialyn Byrdsong says she hopes her family’s story will offer encouragement and inspiration to those who have faced any tragedy. 

She says Ricky always looked at challenges as opportunities and carried a positive outlook on everything.

“His whole spirit and personality just exuded to everybody around him,” she said. “People loved being around him because he was such a positive guy.” 

5k runners cheerfully greet Sherialyn Byrdsong. (Emily Kim/The Daily Northwestern)

While the event is about community gathering, uplifting unity, and combating racism, Cherese Ledet, the CEO of YWCA Evanston/North Shore says the race serves a deeper purpose. Proceeds from the race go to the YWCA Evanston/North Shore, furthering their mission to fight racial justice and violence. 

“I hope participants understand why they are actually here—what brought them here and what they are going to take away, Ledet said. “What one will do after this event is crucial.”

For Ledet, seeing the diversity of the crowd that comes out for the YWCA along with the community’s dedicated efforts brings her joy and pride to lead the organization. 

“It’s the cornerstone of this community’s efforts to really bring all of this together,” she said.“It’s not just the YWCA, we truly have people that are invested in it too.”

Rachel Howard and her father, Marcus Gottlieb, cherished participating in the race together for the second year. 

Celebrating Father’s Day, Howard says she finds this event to be a meaningful bonding experience while also raising awareness about the prevalent hate in society. She says events like these not only strengthen connections within the community and families but also contribute toward greater understanding. 

“It’s a really great cause and organization, a great city, and a great event to be a part of,” Howard shares. “I hope to take part in more.”

Sherialyn Byrdsong delivers a speech to promote unity against hate before the race. (Emily Kim/The Daily Northwestern)

The Race Against Hate stands as a powerful tribute to Ricky’s legacy and to the man he was—not just a coach and a father, but a community leader.

Sherialyn Byrdsong says amidst the current climate of polarization and divisiveness, that despite our differences, we can still come together in unity. As individuals, we each have the power to foster love and understanding in our daily lives, she said.

“Search your own heart and find the capacity to love no matter if you disagree,” Sherialyn Byrdsong reminds us, echoing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

Email: [email protected]

Related Stories: 

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

18th annual Ricky Byrdsong Race Against Hate unifies Evanston community

YWCA Evanston/North Shore talks solidarity, white supremacy at annual ‘Unite Against Racism’ campaign

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