A “” Saturday afternoon was part activism, part memorial and resounding throughout with a message: the violence in our community must end.
About 70 Evanston residents, most all from the city’s black community, gathered in Twiggs Park, near the intersection of Dodge Avenue and Simpson Street, to begin the four block march towards Evanston Township High School, where the day’s rally was held. The procession coursed them through the Fifth Ward community where many of them lived, and only blocks away of their .
The day’s events were sponsored by MOMS: Saving Our Sons, a group co-founded by Evanston residents Cathy Key and Wendy Weaver, shortly after Key The women started the group to prevent others from experiencing a similar loss.
Marchers hoisted signs and wore t-shirts adorned with pictures of relatives and loved ones who had fallen victim to street violence. Of the six being memorialized, all had died within the past year, all were male, all were black, and most never saw the age of 30.
However, the atmosphere at the march was neither exceedingly mournful nor angry. Instead, community members turned their eyes towards the future, chanting the phrases “peace in the community,” “healing” and “choose life.”
By the time the group reached the high school’s upstairs theater for the second part of the rally, the gathering had swelled to number over 100 as latecomers and onlookers hooked in along the way.
Rally speakers included original freedom writer Rev. Manuel Scott, Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back and Niles West alumni Rashard Mendenhall, Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, and members of Evanston’s faith-based community.
Though all spoke optimistically about the city’s ability to overcome trends of violence, many emphasized that the causes, and hence solutions to such problems were neither singular nor simple.
Scott, whose story is recounted in the Hollywood film “Freedom Writers,” said that the problem of violence arises from other systemic, parental, social, and personal issues. Relating his own journey of abuse, drug use, dejection, and redemption through education as a backdrop, Scott pushed for young black men to take control of their destinies in the face of opposition.
“When you see me, you’re reminded that it is going to take a collective effort to reach young men like me,” Scott said. “It’s going to take churches who are training individuals to connect with me. It is going to take schools to educate brothers like me in a way that I can understand. It is going to take politicians who are involved on a broader level, creating more opportunities for brothers like me … It’s going to take unity.”
Scott also criticized local churches and nonprofit organizations for failing to relinquish control in the name of collaboration towards a greater good.
Mayor Tisdahl acknowledged both the successes and failures of the City of Evanston in addressing street violence. She pointed to the reduction in crime in the neighborhood surrounding the intersection of Jackson Avenue and Foster Street, where .
Still, Tisdahl acknowledged that more could be done and appealed to the audience for input.
“Another reason that I’m so glad you’re all here is, let’s face it, these are young, in their 20s, African American men who are getting killed,” Tisdahl said. “And I am your mayor, but I am not in my 20s and am also not African American and I need your help. … I am open to any suggestions and any advice that you have. I need you.”
This is exactly the type of communication Tara Davis said she wants to see.
Davis, a longtime Evanston resident , said that she does not see the same type of community involvement from Evanston police officers that she did when she was younger. Davis recalled officers coming to community events and integrating themselves into the neighborhood, but says that is different nowadays.
She said she was pleased, though, to see progress towards increased communication, noting that in the past community members have been hesitant to band together, even when they are linked by tragedy.
“With us living in such a small community and everybody knowing each other, when things like this happen, I feel like we don’t come together,” Davis said. “But for me to be able to come out and march for my brother, it meant a lot to me. I hope more people will give that positive influence to the younger generation to let them know that there is something else you can do with your life.”
Brothers Rashard and Walter Mendenhall spoke on the dedication required to achieve any goal, whether it be athletic, artistic, vocational or educational. Rashard also raffled off several Steelers’ towels, a jersey, an autographed football and an action figure of himself. All proceeds went to MOMS Saving Our Sons.
Keith Bernard Turner, Terry Pettigree, Peter Lyons, Marcus Davis, David L. Branch III and Craig R. Smith, Jr. were all memorialized at Saturday's event.
This was the first event thrown by MOM Saving Our Sons, .
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly named one of the original members of the group as the co-founder. Wendy Weaver and Cathy Key co-founded the group.