The Race Against Hate was founded in memory of Ricky Byrdsong, former Northwestern University Basketball Coach, Vice President of Affairs at Aon Corporation, and Skokie resident who was murdered by a white supremacist on Friday, July 2, 1999 while walking in his Skokie neighborhood with two of his young children. On the same day, the shooter wounded six Orthodox Jews in Rogers Park. Over the subsequent weekend, he killed a Korean American graduate student in Indiana and wounded an African American minister in Decatur before taking his own life.
Because of Ricky’s lifelong love of sports and his compelling work with young people in the community, the Race Against Hate was launched by his family and friends in 2000 (and entrusted to the YWCA Evanston/North Shore in 2007) to honor Ricky’s legacy and bring attention to the need to combat hatred in all its forms.
Sherialyn Byrdsong’s story
My name is Sherialyn Byrdsong. When I was 16 years old, on Christmas Day in Atlanta, Georgia, I met Ricky Byrdsong at a friend’s house. Before we left, he asked me for my phone number. I gave it to him and thus began our pursuit of the American dream. After graduating from college we married and began our family of three children.
During our 20th year of marriage, on the beautiful Friday evening of July 2, 1999, our American dream became the American nightmare. While Ricky and our two youngest children were taking a walk in our neighborhood, a white supremacist sprayed bullets at three of the most dearly loved people in my life. One struck Ricky in the back and four hours later he died. The bullet was the type that explodes upon impact so all of Ricky’s internal organs were obliterated. My dear husband and the beloved father of our children was gone, suddenly and senselessly, simply because of the color of his skin.
In the days that followed, I had to answer some very difficult questions. Was I going to allow what happened turn me into a depressed and angry person? Could I ever dream or hope again? Was I going to remain a victim? I believed that with God’s help and by His grace, I could turn my tragedy into a victory. The Ricky Byrdsong Foundation and the Ricky Byrdsong Memorial Race Against Hate gave me this opportunity.
Ricky, as a college basketball coach for 19 years, had dedicated his life to helping young people achieve their potential. The mission of The Ricky Byrdsong Foundation was to arrest the growing epidemic of hate and violence by and against youth, to build character in their lives and help them find a sense of purpose. The Race Against Hate unites people of different racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds to celebrate diversity, promote reconciliation and declare that racism is not welcome or tolerated ANYWHERE in America.
The Ricky Byrdsong Foundation was dissolved in 2006, but its work is carried on through YWCA Evanston/North Shore’s racial justice programs. I am proud and thrilled that this organization is sustaining the Race Against Hate, and I am confident that the Race will continue to grow and the funds raised will continue to help our youth negate the stereotypes and fears that cause division. It is impossible to express with words the feelings of joy and pride that my children and I experience each year as we see thousands of people come together to Race Against Hate. We look forward to sharing this very special day in such a meaningful way. Together we can turn tragedy into victory.
Ricky Byrdsong’s book, Coaching Your Kids in the Game of Life (Bethany House Publishers) is available for purchase. Call YWCA Evanston/North Shore at 847-864-8445 if you’re interested in purchasing a copy.
Read: 15 years later, Kelley Byrdsong reflects on the shooting spree that changed her life