Sean Burke does not consider himself a runner, but he has taken part in the YWCA Evanston/North Shore’s Ricky Byrdsong Memorial Race Against Hate every year since moving to Evanston from France four years ago.

“I’m not a very good runner, but I can walk a long, long way,” said Mr. Burke. He was among the 4,500 participants who turned out on June 16 to run and walk in unity against racial hatred and violence in all its forms.

“When I first heard about it, it was something I wanted to get involved in. I really love living in Evanston, and anything that promotes harmony and peace in the community – I’m in,” said Mr. Burke.

The Race Against Hate, held every Father’s Day along the lakefront near Northwestern University, includes a 10K run, a 5K run/walk and a youth mile/half-mile. This year’s race drew thousands of runners and walkers from Evanston, neighboring North Shore communities and Chicago. Some traveled from across Illinois and the United States.

“We are grateful for each and every participant here today and through the 20 years we have been gathering to race,” said YWCA Evanston/North Shore president and CEO Karen Singer at the start of the event.

The Race Against Hate honors the legacy of Ricky Byrdsong, former Northwestern University men’s basketball coach, who was murdered in 1999 by a white supremacist. Proceeds from the race go toward YWCA Evanston/North Shore’s programs to prevent violence and promote racial justice through its newly created Equity Institute. This year, about $300,000 was raised for this work.

Just months after Mr. Byrdsong’s murder, Sherialyn Byrdsong joined friends and family in launching the race to commemorate her husband’s life. Since 2007, the event has been entrusted to the YWCA Evanston/North Shore.

Standing together with daughters Sabrina and Kelley, son Ricky, Jr. and Ms. Singer on race day, Ms. Byrdsong thanked the runners, walkers, and a host of volunteers, sponsors and well wishers who braved the unseasonably cool foggy weather.

Noting that hate crimes, gun violence and all types of discrimination are rampant across America, Ms. Byrdsong asked participants to renew their commitment “to overcome evil with good, and love over hate.”

After the race, Ms. Singer presented the YWCA Evanston/North Shore’s inaugural Equity Champion Award to Sherialyn Byrdsong and her family.

“We paid a big price, but without this community it would have been a lot worse. … We just love how you have been on this journey with us,” Ms. Byrdsong said in accepting the award on behalf of her family.

 “I believe that you are living out what this race stands for… You are racing against hate wherever you are,” she said.

Heidi Randhava

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.