EVANSTON — A gathering of approximately 35 community members convened at Depot Square on the evening of Friday, June 19, to stand up for equality and show support and solidarity for people of color in Evanston and in the world. Others joined the event via videoconference. Organizers and speakers at the event were Kim Proffit, Jill Adams, Brian and Brenda Richins and Sheila McGuire — all of Evanston.
Some people carried signs, and all stood silent, practicing social distancing and wearing masks as the key speakers addressed the audience.
Kim Proffit began by telling a story of when she was in elementary school.
“My teacher divided the class up into a group of brown-eyed children and another group of blue-eyed children,” Proffit said. “She told us how much better the blue eyes were than the brown eyes, so the brown-eyed kids had to wait on the kids with blue eyes and do whatever the [kids with] blue eyes told them to do. She gave the blue-eyed children candy. Then she announced she was wrong and said kids with brown eyes were better, but by the time she turned it around and said the brown eyes were better, I was angry at the blue eyes. Then she explained how wrong it was to judge someone and treat someone badly because they were different. As a 6-year-old child, I began to register the unfairness and pain of racism and prejudice.”
Jill Adams then spoke, starting off by discussing all the things that bind people together in Evanston and Wyoming before delving into what the community can do to address systemic racism.
“My silence allows injustice to continue,” Adams said, “and when I looked at the Salt Lake City protests, I knew we needed to start a conversation here in Evanston. I am here to say I support the Black Lives Matter movement. … I am here because I believe in equality. When neighbors disparage minorities, it frustrates me. If you are unaware of systemic racism in America, then you have work to do. What we do matters during this time of uncertainty and chaos in the U.S. The U.S. has been through slavery, the Jim Crow laws, murders of blacks and prisons for profit. … None of us can truly understand what it means to be black in America.”
Brenda Richins provided statistics on black and Latino population numbers in Uinta County and the U.S. and the disproportionate number that are incarcerated in prisons, lack adequate health benefits and have died from COVID -19 compared to the white population. Richins said in looking at those numbers, it’s clear there’s a problem because the assumption is either that black Americans and people of color commit more crime or don’t work as hard or that the system is biased. Either assumption provides evidence of racism.
“My son Jess couldn’t be here today, but he helped me gather this information and write it,” Brenda Richins said. “He is interested in a career where he can help bring justice to all people. Our first step in addressing racism is to admit we have a problem. We need to teach the history of oppression and racism and stop denying and minimizing the problem.”
Brian Richins came to the mic next and became emotional when speaking.
“I am a recovering racist,” he said. “I grew up in an all-white environment and I still struggle with how to be nonracist. My sister is married to a black man, and she has to talk to her children about how people will treat them because of the color of their skin. She has to teach them how to act and respond so they won’t get hurt. She shouldn’t have to worry and do that. I’ve never liked the slogan, ‘Make America great again’ and now I understand it’s because I don’t think we’ve ever been great. We’ve been good, we’ve been decent, but America has never been great. We have to make it great finally — that is the goal. We need to be proactive and courageous.”
Sheila McGuire, who works the for the Herald as a reporter, was the final speaker at Friday’s event. She told the audience about her deep roots in the community, as her family came to the area in the 1880s and she was born and raised here. She talked of her friends of color, different nationalities and of different origins and how it breaks her heart to see them hurt, suffer and worry about their children.
“You see, I’ve never had to sit down with my own kids and explain to them why they shouldn’t wear hoodies or take walks through certain neighborhoods or reach for their license and registration without first taking great pains to explain what they’re doing because those things could get them not only arrested but killed,” McGuire said. “That’s so wrong on so many levels and it’s a condition I refuse to accept as ‘just the way it is’ — not here and not anywhere.”
McGuire said she has lived in Evanston her entire life and has heard the comments that foster and sustain racism that have been in the nation since its birth. She asked the audience before her if they had ever told a racist joke, laughed when someone else told a racist joke or a joke against someone’s religion or made a discriminatory remark or heard one and just turned away to avoid conflict. McGuire admitted to the times when she has failed to stand up for those being discriminated against and said she wants to now become part of the solution to end racism and discrimination.
“So, what I’m asking of each of you is to start speaking up, even when it’s hard,” McGuire said. “When you hear that joke or comment, take a deep breath and explain why it’s offensive and inappropriate. … My friends and I founded our little group to offer support to our friends, neighbors and people everywhere who face discrimination. Right now, that’s our black and brown neighbors. … Doing the work is not unpatriotic or un-American. It is not antipolice or anti-white lives. Instead, it’s the compassionate, decent, moral and patriotic thing to do. It’s what we have to do.”
Following a few comments from those in the audience who also wished to speak, Brian Richins said the Stand Up for Equality group plans to continue being involved in the community, organizing and mobilizing whenever the need arises.
Proffit then thanked the participants for coming and asked them to kneel with her in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Proffit became emotional as she explained the group had chosen that length of time because it was how long a police officer in Minneapolis had kneeled on George Floyd’s neck, killing him and reviving Black Lives Matter protests around the world. She said the Stand Up for Equality Evanston group wanted those in attendance to get a sense of how long those 8 minutes and 46 seconds would feel when kneeling in one position and think about what must have been going through the minds of Floyd, the officer kneeling on his neck, the other officers present and the witnesses there filming the scene as Floyd died.