Thousands step out to race against hate

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EVANSTON -- More than 5,000 gathered today in Evanston for the 17th Annual Ricky Byrdsong Memorial Race Against Hate, a race that takes on more significance this year in the wake of the massacre in Orlando.

“Our work is to say to people we have to understand and get past the differences because we are so much more alike than we are different,” said Eileen Heineman, YWCA Evanston/North Shore.

One week after the nation’s worst mass shooting,  several thousand people took a stand, and a step, against hate. In the crowd was Sherilyn Byrdsong, the widow of Ricky Byrdsong. The race honors her late husband’s memory.

Ricky Byrdsong was the first African American men’s basketball coach at Northwestern University. In 1999 he was shot and killed by a white supremacist who went on a shooting rampage targeting minorities across two states.

Since then, the race has sought to bring people together in the spirit of love and unity rather than hate and division. Sherilyn Byrdsong has moved back to her native Atlanta, but returns to Evanston every Father’s Day.

“It’s a great way for families to teach children that we have to accept everybody, and try to love everybody, and try to understand everybody,” Sherilyn Birdsong said. “Love is the way, not hate.”

It’s a message that echoes even louder just one week after nation’s worst mass shooting in Orlando, which appears to have been motivated at least in part by hate.


“To bring people together like this is really empowering, to say, 'you know what? That’s not acceptable,'” said runner Colleen Baker.

Proceeds from the race go to the YWCA of Evanston’s racial equity and violence prevention programs. The Brydsong family has also established a foundation to combat hate. They take their message across the country.