YWCA Evanston/North Shore’s annual event centers on hope, families, and making an impact.
For April Likhite, the Ricky Byrdsong Memorial Race Against Hate, held every June, includes the things she holds dear: family, community, and doing something for the greater good. Oh, and then there’s the running.
Likhite, an Evanston resident who served as Northwestern University’s women’s cross country coach for 11 seasons before retiring in 2015, was one of the top female finishers in the 10K last year. But when she talks about the Race Against Hate, the running part seems to take a back seat.
“We love the race,” she says, referring to her husband, Craig, and son, Cade, who also participate. “It kickstarts our summer. And I love the fact that it’s on Father’s Day. It’s a family event and it has something for everyone.”
The race, which began in 2000, honors the memory of Ricky Byrdsong, a businessman and former Northwestern University men’s basketball coach, who was murdered by a white supremacist in 1999.
“I remember the day Ricky died,” Likhite says. “That’s why the name (Race Against Hate) is so meaningful. It’s very powerful because we remember what happened.”
This memory is refreshed every year when Sherialyn Byrdsong, Ricky’s widow, provides inspirational words to race participants before the start.
“For so many of us, when we’re at the starting line and Sherialyn speaks about the impact of what we’re doing, it’s hard not to have tears in your eyes,” Likhite says.
At this starting line moment in 2015, Byrdsong referred to the race as “a silver lining in the dark cloud of hate that took my husband’s life.”
It is a firm belief in this silver lining that compels Likhite and thousands — not only from Evanston, but from across the Chicago area and the country — to show up year after year on the dewy grass at Long Field in Evanston to run, walk, volunteer or simply cheer on family and friends.
And the impact of the event is multiplied in the days and weeks following. Proceeds from the race go toward funding YWCA Evanston/North Shore’s racial justice work and anti-violence programming, which happen year-round. These include programs like “Let’s Talk @ Lunch,” which brings people together to talk about racism; racial equity workshops; and training programs to help institutions become more equitable, to name just a few.
YWCA’s anti-violence work includes hands-on efforts that reach young people of all ages. For example, it offers training and workshops for children as young as elementary school to help them build a strong sense of self, resolve conflicts in a productive way, and understand what healthy, safe relationships look like. These programs aim to intervene early in a child’s life before unhealthy patterns become entrenched.
This year’s race will be held on Sunday, June 18, and YWCA Evanston/North Shore emphasized that people who are interested in participating and supporting the race’s mission don’t need to be runners.
“We have something for everyone,” Race Director Trimmy Stamell says. “The race draws both serious and recreational runners, as well as many people who want to walk the course in community with others. It’s for children, high schoolers, seniors, and anyone else who wants to take part.”
People can sign up as individuals or as part of a team. A recent glance at the race’s registration website showed teams from churches and schools, and teams made up of community leaders and members of running clubs. There are also teams made up of friends and neighbors. One such team called itself “Dames for Racial Justice.”
Lyle Foster, who lives in Missouri and was a friend of Ricky Byrdsong, echoed Likhite’s thoughts about the meaning behind the race and why participation — in any way — matters.
He wrote this after the race in 2014: “For all those days that the promise of the Martin Luther King Jr. ‘dream’ seems to be in reverse, this was a day that filled me with hope. I was encouraged by witnessing the incredible number of children, babies in strollers, and seniors on walking sticks who ran and walked to stand against hate. The thought kept occurring to me that a lot of people want to make our communities better … a lot of people do believe in opportunity for all and the dignity of every human.”
To learn more and register for the 18th Annual Ricky Byrdsong Memorial Race Against Hate, go to www.ywca.org/RAH2017.
YWCA Evanston/North Shore, which sponsors the Race Against Hate, works to eliminate racism, empower women, stand up for social justice, help families, and strengthen local communities. It serves more than 10,000 people annually in northern Cook County. For more information, go to www.ywca.org/evanston.