SYCAMORE – As the Black Lives Matter march made its way through the residential streets of Sycamore on Wednesday night, the group occasionally halted at intersections to open the mic and let people tell their stories.
At one of those stops near Kindred Hospital on Edwards Road and Somonauk Street, Toun Arends told a story about her family’s experience living in Sycamore.
“You don’t know when all you see is white faces,” Arends said. “They’re really nice, they’re your friends, but they’ll never empathize with you. I’ll never empathize with my black friends because I don’t know what it’s like to be discriminated against for the color of your skin. I have been called many, many, many bad names, but nothing compares to the [stuff] black people go through on a daily basis.”
The crowd of more than 600 people cheered. The group started at the DeKalb County Courthouse, 133 W. State St., then, after snaking through downtown Sycamore, went down Somonauk and then back up Commercial and Locust streets before arriving back at the courthouse.
Trinity Alexander, 20, said she wasn’t expecting the turnout that showed up Wednesday.
“It honestly did surprise me,” Alexander said. “And it did surprise me because when I had a house fire I had to stay out here a little bit. And I had a pitbull, and I was walking my pitbull and I got a lot of dirty, questioning looks from people around. So it was very, very surprising to see so many people out here.”
Wednesday was the fifth straight day in the county of Black Lives Matter demonstrations held to protest continued violence and killings of black people while in the custody of police, and the first one to take place in Sycamore. The protests locally and across the country were spurred by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was seen in a video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes prior to his death.
When the event started, one of the organizers, Tiana McAllister, 18, of Kirkland, said she was worried about the group’s safety after some comments on social media.
There was a large police presence at the gathering, including DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott and Sycamore Police Chief Jim Winters, though police stayed back and blocked the road from traffic so marchers could continue in the streets. DeKalb County State’s Attorney Rick Amato and Sycamore Mayor Curt Lang were also at the gathering at the courthouse, as was State Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore.
A common theme among many people who grabbed the loudspeaker was that this march was not a one-night thing. It’s going to take perseverance to tackle systemic racism.
Alexander said she hopes the march will galvanize change in the community, especially since so many came out to march.
“I always welcome change,” Alexander said. “I’m hoping the people who glared at me are doing better to fix those implicit biases they probably have. But [the turnout] was very, very surprising to say the least.”
Alexander said a big chunk of that comes from what’s taught in schools. During a public speech, she said black voices are important to teach as well.
She called on teachers to look at what they’re teaching and do better.
She recalled the Tulsa Race Massacre, which occured on May 31 and June 1, 1921, 99 years ago Monday, as an example. Known as black wall street, Tulsa, Oklahoma was home to 300 black-owned businesses. During the riot, a white mob burned and looted businesses, and 1,200 houses were destroyed in just 24 hours. Historians estimate 300 people died.
“There’s a whole black Wall Street we’re not learning about,” Alexander said. “And it’s so important to not just black history but American history. By teaching an accurate representation of American history, we are doing America justice. It’s generational. If we start now and say hey, this educational system is a little racist, a little whitewashed.”