Drone's eye view of the completed painting of BLACK LIVES MATTER by Steve Lemieux-Jordan

Current and past Evanston Township High School boys varsity basketball players banded together at a critical time this past summer, painting  “BLACK LIVES MATTER” in bold yellow letters on a portion of Dodge Avenue that runs past the high school.

The effort, with team players assisted by alumni and volunteers lending their art expertise, came just weeks after the George Floyd death had roiled the country in demonstrations and protests. Evanston aldermen unanimously approved a resolution on Sept. 29 that the message will continue to be displayed long after the yellow lettering has faded, designating  that portion of Dodge Avenue between Church Street and Lake Street with the Honorary Street Name “Black Lives Matter Way.”

Officials established the Honorary Street Name Sign program in 1996 to allow citizens the opportunity to honor individuals or groups that have contributed greatly to the City of Evanston through cultural, historic, or humanitarian acts.

Under the program, the signs are posted at each end of the block and displayed for a ten-year period.

At the Council meeting, held remotely, Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, introduced ETHS Coach Mike Ellis, with whom he worked on the project and in an application for the honorary street naming.

Coach Ellis, in turn, thanked the alderman and others, including Fifth Ward Alderman Robin Rue Simmons for their assistance on the project where “we were able to send a message motivated by what we’ve seen throughout the country led by the Washington D.C., painting of “Black Lives Matter” on their street in front of the White House,” he said.

At the meeting Mr. Ellis also introduced three members of the State-tourney-bound team, who were instrumental in the effort.

Isaiah Holden, a senior, recalled, “It was a very memorable moment to see how the community came out together.” He said the issue itself was one of importance to the team “because we have to make a change, and efforts like the Dodge Avenue painting represent “the first step in making that change.”

Elijah Bull, another senior, said  an honorary street sign presents the opportunity “to really emphasize the idea of Black Lives Matter, and equality.” 

“And with the upcoming weather conditions coming up during the winter,” he added, “the Black Lives Matter painting may fade, so the honorary signs are a great opportunity to reinstate the idea.”

Blake Peters, a third senior, echoed the sentiments of his teammates.

“Really, we just feel like this is a great opportunity to promote a lot of the values that many of us in our community hold dear, like inclusivity, anti-racism, and things related to that,” he said to Council members, “so we really appreciate your support, and we look forward to hearing the result.”

Before the vote on the resolution, Ald. Braithwaite thanked Coach Ellis and his staff for their efforts.

That day, he said, “There were so many members of the community that showed up … just a lot of the student-athletes,” he said, as well as others.

He observed that “with as much criticism as we have to take from many members of our local community, who use labels like racism and [maintain] we don’t get behind things, I think that this is significant.

“And there are many towns and communities that would not have an opportunity to do this,” he added, before the Council vote, passing the resolution unanimously.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.