ETHS varsity basketball players and alumni help unveil the new street sign. The group pulled a string to remove the thick paper sleeve that keeps honorary street signs under wraps. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

The portion of Dodge Avenue between Church Street and Lake Street was officially designated as “Black Lives Matter Way” at a recognition ceremony on Saturday, Aug. 14.

Close to 50 community members of all ages gathered at the intersection of Church Street and Dodge Avenue for the unveiling of the new street sign. Evanston Council member Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, and Evanston Township High School Head Basketball Coach Mike Ellis were early advocates for renaming the street, which was unanimously approved by Council members last Sept. 29.

The designation honors a global movement and recognizes ETHS boys basketball players who took a stand against racism, painting “Black Lives Matter” on the section of Dodge Avenue in front of the high school in July 2020. The project was initiated by Elijah Bull, Jaylin Gibson, Isaiah Holden and Blake Peters, with the support of Coach Ellis, who spoke on Saturday.

“The message truly is… If you can just treat others the way you would want to be treated… think how great our society would be,” he said.

Members of teams coached by Head Coach Mike Ellis for the past 10 years came out July 3rd, 2020, to paint “Black Lives Matter” on the stretch of Dodge Avenue between Lake Avenue and Church Street. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

Inspired by the “Black Lives Matter” street art that was painted near the White House in Washington D.C. on June 5, 2020, the four high school teammates, who had been varsity basketball teammates since their freshman year, collaborated with the ETHS basketball coaching staff, ETHS administrators, City officials and professional muralists to plan the work.

Boys varsity basketball players and alumni players who had graduated in the past 10 years were invited to paint the bold yellow letters. Some arrived before sunrise; others painted late into the evening to complete the street mural within a single day.

“I apologize that the street art for Black Lives Matter doesn’t look as bright and yellow as the lane lines,” said Coach Ellis. We did use the same paint, but we found out that it stays longer when you roll it on with the City equipment versus hand painting. We tried, and that’s the significance of what today is all about. That will last.”

ETHS Head Basketball Coach Mike Ellis (left), ETHS Senior Accountant and Assistant Varsity Coach Rudy Meo (center); and Freshman Basketball Coach Jetter Gibson look at the new street sign at Church Street and Dodge Avenue. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

He credited his parents, Charlie and Ruth Ellis, for instilling the values that he carries with him today. He was able to thank his parents in person because they came in from out of town to attend the celebration.

The coach thanked the ETHS administration, Council member Braithwaite and the City of Evanston; current and former basketball players; and assistant coaches and their families.

“We put our heart and soul into a message for the community to understand what’s important to us. Without your help and support, that would not have been possible.

“I sent the current and past players a message today. If I could teach them to put a ball in a basket every time they shot it, it wouldn’t be as important to me as that July 3rd and the time we spent on the street. Because one is going to carry on through life and impact future generations. One is for the moment; one is for the future. It’s easy to see what’s more valuable.

“Lastly,” said Coach Ellis, “everybody that played a part in this – we appreciate not only your time, but your support for the cause, and the message that Black lives truly do matter to all of us.”

A group of current and alumni basketball players had the honor of unveiling what everyone came to see – a new brown and white sign with “Black Lives Matter Way” on it.

“I’m just honored that I was here during a time when we were trying to make change,” said Logan Talmage, a 2021 ETHS graduate who played on the basketball team for four years. “I’m glad to see all the younger guys here who are going to carry on that change. Really, it’s just a cool moment to see all the progress that’s being made within our own school and team.”

Addison Blough and Jonah Ross are both juniors who play on the school’s basketball and baseball teams.

Jonah said, “I think it’s special that we were able to be out here, to come together and support our community, and make a difference.”

“I think it’s very important that everyone showed up for the community,” said Addison. “And it’s important for everyone who supported the cause, that the honorary street naming took place. It just shows that the community is stronger when we’re together.”

Council member Braithwaite said, “This initiative was started by Coach Ellis and his basketball players. The wonderful thing is, not only did it involve our up-and-coming student leaders, but it also was a community event because of the number of people that came out to support it.”

In addition to Coach Ellis, representatives of ETHS included School Board President Pat Savage-Williams, School Board Vice President Monique Parsons, Superintendent Eric Witherspoon, Assistant Superintendent/Principal Marcus Campbell, student athletes, teachers, coaches and staff, including Senior Accountant and Assistant Varsity Basketball Coach Rudy Meo.

“The fact that our youth remain the conscience of this community gives me hope,” said Parsons in her remarks. “It’s not enough to just listen to them. We have to allow them to do things and to drive change. And that’s why we’re here.

“So, I want to thank the youth, and I want to thank the coach that has enough heart to listen to them and to be brave enough to allow them to lead,” she added.

Board President Savage-Williams said, “All of us being here at this corner really represents all of Evanston. This is important for all our students… ETHS is the cornerstone… I’m always excited to be at any kind of gathering and see folks representing what Evanston really looks like… I feel really hopeful this morning.”

“I have such a deep affection for ETHS,” said Evanston resident Jennifer Fisher, who retired from the high school after more than 36 years as a history teacher and History Department Chair.

“I think it’s really important that Evanston residents and Evanston allies are here supporting Black Lives Matter… So that’s why I’m here. I want to be as supportive as possible,” Fisher told a RoundTable reporter.

Retired City council member Delores Holmes spoke about the importance of building and sharing a vision. “Never give up. That’s the greatest thing,” she told the group.

Dr. Campbell said, “We’re very excited to be here – thrilled that the City would be doing this – and we stand in solidarity for racial justice in Evanston… We welcome the City as a partner, we welcome District 65 as a partner, and we welcome the [James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy] as a partner. We’re all working together to make sure that our youth have justice.”

In his remarks, Dr. Witherspoon praised the young men in the Boys basketball program, Coach Ellis and the basketball coaching staff.

“I think it’s important to remember this particular day and this particular location. It is embedded in the mission, and in the Board’s equity statement, and in the Board’s goals at Evanston Township High School that Black lives matter… We believe it. We live it. We embrace it and we voice it…

“We hold it in the forefront that our work is not done… There is a constant recommitment to making sure, at this high school and in this community, that Black lives matter, and all of us know it and live it.

“The dedication of Black Lives Matter Way, in my mind, is the most appropriate placement that could happen… The fact that it is in front of this high school, that stands for this work…and where young people will keep it going… for generations to come.

“It is such an honor to have Black Lives Matter Way in front of Evanston Township High School,” said Dr. Witherspoon.

Before offering a closing prayer, Dr. Michael Nabors, Senior Pastor at Second Baptist Church and President of the Evanston/North Shore NAACP, shared some personal thoughts and observations related to the ceremony.

“Everybody here is important. Everybody here is somebody. And not just because you’ve come here on this occasion… You’re somebody because you were born into this world…

“In this world, there are people that will try to share that you are not somebody. But by the fact that you are here, that’s symbolic of the fact that you are, indeed somebody.

“I’m feeling the vibe of this intergenerational gathering. We have young people here. We have babies and children here, and we have those of us who are a little bit older here as well…

“We are standing on Black Lives Matter Way. If you cannot conquer the world, you can conquer the space where you are… And that is what has happened in the Evanston community, thanks to all the… wonderful people who are here,” said Dr. Nabors.

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.