More than 50 Evanston residents gathered at 12 p.m. April 3 at Trahan Park at Ridge Avenue and Monroe Street where they crafted signs for a demonstration focused on anti-racism, inclusion, and the importance of voting in the April 6 General Elections.

Fuschia Winston-Rodriguez distributed crafting materials to community members.

“I am pretty vocal when it comes to anti-racism within our community and I want to make sure that our voters are voting through a lens that is equitable as well as inclusive and diverse,” said Ms. Winston-Rodriguez.

The group marched down Ridge Avenue to the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center at 2100 Ridge Ave., where more than 75 people assembled for a press conference at 3 p.m. at Ingraham Park, across from early voting at the Civic Center.

Fuschia Winston-Rodriguez provided supplies for hand-crafted signs. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

“Today, we have a movement that was led by some of our Black parents in the community, combining with a movement that was led by some of our Brown parents in the community and many co-conspirators all gathering to say that we, as a community, need to vote like our Black and brown lives matter – not just put signs in our yards, not just speak to the matter – but take actions, and in this case, vote like our Black and Brown lives in our community matter,” said local activist Karla Thomas.

She pointed to the impact of American colonialism and the indelible imprint of slavery on the nation as a whole, as well as how it affects Evanston. She condemned what she said has been thousands of dollars in donations given to local candidates and Political Action Committees “that will uphold and replicate white supremacy systems in modern…ways.”

In closing, Ms. Thomas said, “We will not be silenced. …We will not be moved. … We will not settle. We are Evanston.”

The following are excerpts from comments made by some of the other speakers at the press conference. Stephanie Mendoza and Eva Martin translated from Spanish to English.

Melissa Blount: “I think the Reopen campaign is a waste of money, because just on a common sense level, anyone who has been in the house with their children for 24 hours a day for the last year and some change does not want the schools to stay closed. We all want them to be reopened, but we want them to be opened with consideration, compassion and care for our teachers. …

“We march the day after a brutal and devastating first week of testimony regarding the murder trial of Derek Chauvin – a racist with a badge – who proudly lynched George Floyd in broad daylight in front of Black and Brown children on a warm, sunny Memorial Day…”

Atena Danner began by singing, “For each child that’s born, a morning star rises and sings to the universe.”

“So who are we?” she continued. “We are agents of love. Agency means that we decide how to move, and then we move that way…We are all here because we love somebody. And because we love, we are called to be agents of care. We care for our families. We care for our queer families. We care for our Black children. We care for our disabled friends. We care for our diverse and multi-faceted community. And we care for the future of the communities that are Evanston and that are Skokie, and wherever our lives touch those other lives…

“This call to be agents of change. What needs to change? A child’s race or language being a predictor of success. …Children and families feeling excluded or worse – being harmed because of gender expression, sexual orientation, disability or culture…That needs to stop. And we are going to change that. Because this is a community made of many communities and the strength of a community is based largely on each person’s sense of belonging.

“Any child being held back from thriving because of prejudice or ignorance, and that includes patronizing and saviorism about disabilities and diagnoses, or resistance to accommodations and supports – that needs to change. And we are changing it. Because our disabled kids, and I say the word ‘disabled’ with great and specific intention – our neuro-divergent kids, our ‘not diagnosed but needing support’ kids are all imbued with a genius that we need to make way for.

“They will be an integral part of our society if we will listen to them, meet their needs…We have decided to move together in love and in care, for protection of our people as agents with the power to change.

Rocio Mancera spoke in Spanish. The short version English translation appears here: “Spanish is proudly my first language. I am here to proudly represent the Black and Brown community. I am here because I want more equity and we say that there is a lot of diversity in our community, but there is still a lot of racism. And I just want to be able to be in the community without any racism.

“One of the things I’ve noticed about the Civic Center is that there is not enough diversity, not enough different ethnicities, and I think it’s time for us to have different ethnicities and races inside the Civic Center – to have more representation.

“This is for my children’s legacy and for your children’s legacy – for their children and the children after them…If you see racism happening, defend people that are being affected by racism. Say something and don’t stand by when you’re experiencing or seeing racism.”

Sebastian Nalls, a 2021 Evanston mayoral candidate, spoke about his own experiences as a student in Evanston Districts 65 and 202 “not too long ago.”

“This is an incredibly important issue that we’re talking about here today. I talked to some of my peers years after they graduated from Evanston Township High School. We talked about what was important to them in Evanston. These men and women of color came to me and said, ‘I do not want to come back to Evanston ever again, because of the experiences I had throughout my childhood.’

“Whether that was in District 65, District 202, the Parks and Recreation Department – that is where we are failing as a community – when our youth feel that this is not home to them. That they can’t wait to go somewhere else because they want to raise a better future for their own children.

“During my [mayoral] candidacy, I had an opportunity to visit an English class at [ETHS] that was primarily focused on Black and Brown youth. The amazing experience I had in that classroom, where I saw our youth working together, collaborating, using hip hop to focus on English – to collaborate through a multitude of different avenues to … express themselves in a way that they have never been able to do before. That made me smile and it made me so incredibly proud of the men and women working in District 65 and District 202 to make the education system better for our children.

“Our children are the future of Evanston…I am so thankful to all of you who came out here today to voice your opinion – to say that what we have right now is not enough by any stretch of the imagination.

“Our children deserve the most from their school. They deserve a future that is equitable, that is transparent, that works for them – because that is how we come together as Evanston. … Equity will bring us to a future that is brighter than ever before.”

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.