On June 1, Tony Williams walked up to the Veterans Memorial Circle in Brookfield, raising his fist and started dribbling his basketball.
It was a call to action – the repeated, rhythmic thud of rubber on pavement – and it was answered.
By June 6, Williams was telling his story to about 200 people in Kiwanis Park in Brookfield, delivering a message of unity and a call to listen to voices of the unheard – whose messages were being amplified perhaps more clearly than they had before – in the outrage that followed the death of George Floyd, a black man who died as Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25.
“We’ve all been here before,” said Williams, referring to the “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts that appeared after the death of Eric Garner, a New York man killed as a police officer locked him in a chokehold while arresting him for selling loose cigarettes.
“I want to be able to deal with the pain of watching something like that, because it’s unfortunately inevitable.”
After speaking for about 15 minutes, Williams and his 7-year-old daughter, Juliana, led those 200 people – predominantly white – as they marched around the park, chanting “Black Lives Matter” and other phrases in support of finally changing a 400-year-old system that had enslaved, oppressed, disenfranchised and marginalized those black lives, like Williams’, and of ending the repeated instances nationwide of police brutalizing people of color.
Among those drawn to the Kiwanis Park rally was Brookfield resident Adam Saracco, who pointed to his 4-year-old son, Joseph, who is black, as his reason for being present.
“I’m thinking about him,” said Saracco, who is white. “I’m just thinking about our son and his future, and think about him as he gets older, what it will be like when he’s a teenager, driving around with his friends … and just hoping for a better future for all people of color.”
Also by the end of the week, Williams had raised $2,100 for a nonprofit – United Pride and Produce — he and his wife, Jenna Jungels, had launched in response to the outpouring of support Williams had received on social media and at what had become his daily ritual at the circle
On Facebook he dubbed his solitary protest #shutupanddribble, claiming what originated as a Fox News host’s putdown of basketball great LeBron James, who dared offer a political opinion, and using it as a call to make noise and provoke change.
By the end of the day on June 1, Facebook’s algorithm had noticed the support his pledge to #shutupanddribble at the circle was getting and sent Williams a suggestion – do you want to start a fundraiser?
That suggestion would end up launching United Pride and Produce, which now has its own Facebook page and amassed more than 100 followers in four days. With his wife’s contacts through her job as a grade school teacher, Williams is raising money to distribute fresh produce for families with children in need.
The hope is to distribute the food twice weekly and then convene Zoom meetings involving those families and anyone else, to demonstrate how to make a meal with those ingredients and in the process connect people who might not otherwise have connected.
“It’s a way of bridging that gap,” Williams said.
Marches, rallies in Riverside
and North Riverside
The rally in Kiwanis Park on June 6 was just one of many such peaceful demonstrations that popped up, sometimes without much notice, on the streets of Riverside and North Riverside as well as LaGrange, Hinsdale, Downers Grove, Elmhurst, Forest Park, Oak Park, Berwyn and Cicero, among others.
In contrast to the violence that had characterized events a week earlier, the marches and rallies were entirely peaceful and drew earnest crowds of young people voicing calls for not only an end to systemic racism but for unity.
Marches on consecutive days, on June 2 and 3, through Berwyn and Cicero ended up shutting down the intersection of Harlem Avenue and Cermak Road, the Berwyn-North Riverside border.
Demonstrators participating in those marches were much more racially diverse and one of their explicit messages was one of unity among black and Latino communities after violence and looting on June 1 along the Cicero Avenue corridor resulted in the shooting deaths of two people.
The June 3 march from the Cicero Town Hall to Harlem-Cermak and back, brought out Adam Hollingsworth, aka the Dreadhead Cowboy, who has become something of a phenomenon in Chicago, riding one of his horses on the South and West sides of Chicago.
In an interview with WBEZ in May, Hollingsworth said he’d served 18 months in jail as a teenager after being wrongfully charged for possession of a weapon and a stolen motor vehicle.
Hollingsworth, who is black, led the June 3 march, holding aloft the flag of Mexico and standing with his fist raised atop his horse, Prince, as demonstrators knelt in silence for nine minutes in the Harlem-Cermak intersection.
“It starts with you,” said one of the protest’s leaders as participants knelt. “What are you gonna do when you go home right now? Keep sharing the love. Keep sharing the peace. Nobody else needs to die.”
On June 7, about 60 to 70 people gathered at Veterans Memorial Circle in Brookfield at 12:30 p.m. and marched from there down the sidewalk on Grand Boulevard to Brookfield Avenue to Arden Avenue and then headed east on Washington Avenue, across First Avenue where police blocked traffic briefly, and into downtown Riverside.
Chanting “No justice, no peace, no racist police” and other phrases, they then turned north onto Woodside Road and Desplaines Avenue to the North Riverside Police Department, where they knelt in protest. The purpose at the demonstration, according to a flier used to promote the march, was to demand “justice for George Floyd and all those lost and damaged by the American criminal justice system.”
The march flew under most people’s radars. Brookfield police learned about it from a flier they received from LaGrange police, while Riverside police didn’t know about the march until the demonstrators neared First Avenue.
Riverside teenagers were responsible for a final rally and march, planned for the morning of June 9 at Big Ball Park. Organized by recent high school graduate Audrey Pekny and Emily Kowal, they reached out to fellow students Devin Conrath, Shalah Russell and Seymone Russell, all of whom are black, to share their experiences.
“What’s happening is my group of people are very upset and want to have our voices heard,” Conrath said in a phone interview last week since the rally was taking place at the Landmark’s weekly deadline. “It’s been happening for centuries and centuries. Our people have a long distrust with the police. I want to see the bad cops go. It’s a wake-up call and it’s good everybody is talking about it.”