GLEN ELLYN – Kelle Mack spoke to a hushed crowd Monday in Glen Ellyn, her daughters Yani and Gabi just feet away, as a mom scared for her son.
"I have to tell him every day don't look threatening, even though he looks 16 and is just 25," said Mack, a Lombard resident. "I just experienced racism at my job today. I'm a nurse and I had to leave work crying.
"I'm marching because I don't want any more people to die at the hands of licensed murderers."
Mack was one of an estimated 300-400 people who gathered at the Lake Ellyn boathouse for a peaceful assembly Monday evening. The protest was one of so many all over the country in the past week following the death of George Floyd May 25 in Minneapolis, when an arresting white police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee to Floyd's neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
Chauvin, who has since been fired, faces charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter.
The protesters who gathered in Glen Ellyn, many of them young people, many carrying signs from "Justice for Floyd" to "Black lives matter" to "End white silence," marched from Lake Ellyn through the streets of downtown Glen Ellyn to the Glen Ellyn Civic Center, where other speakers addressed the crowd, and then walked back to the boathouse.
Mack, before the march, asked the crowd to take a knee and observe a moment of silence in the memory of George Floyd.
"George Floyd had relationships, emotions, struggles, strengths, regrets, wishes and a heartbeat just like every single one of you," Mack said. "George Floyd was a living being and is now a memory."
Sigrid Elliott, from Wheaton, spoke of the "institutional racism in this country long overlooked" and of the hard time many black women are having this week with "exhaustion," – and the same with white women with black sons, and even white women with white sons.
"Our country is exhausted from black people dying," Elliott said. "We've had to see another one of our people die, but when I say our people I mean all of us, because we are one people."
The large gathering, people walking dogs, moms pushing their babies in strollers, walked past Glenbard West High School and into downtown Glen Ellyn with frequent chants of "Say his name, George Floyd" to "I can't breathe" to "Hey hey, ho ho these racist cops have got to go."
While other protests in recent days throughout the nation have turned violent, with some rioting and looting, this was not that. A Glen Ellyn police officer, stationed on Crescent Boulevard in front of the high school, smiled as the crowd walked by. Several residents looked on, some taking pictures and others honking car horns in support. A white maintenance worker at Duchon Field stood with a cardboard sign "BLM."
Jordan Wyatt, a white college-age Winfield resident who also attended protests in Chicago, said it was important for local leaders to see the "mass group of people that actually care." Her friend carried a sign with names of other black men who have died from excessive force at the hands of police.
"It's important to bring this issue local. It's not just the city, it's not just suburbanites that go into the city. We as Glen Ellyn area residents care as well," Wyatt said. "It's very frustrating being in a town that is very white conservative and talking about matters like black lives matter, that it can be controversial when I don't think it should be. Black lives matter, period."
Lazerick Smith, a recent graduate of Glenbard West, said it was important for the community to be aware of the issue, to become open minded and be involved. He hopes that events like Monday's are a call to action. Driving around Glen Ellyn, growing up in the community, he feels a difference being a young black man.
"It sucks to even have my parents have to talk to me constantly about being safe, and do what they tell you to do if you get pulled over," Smith said. "I feel like we shouldn't have this conversation in 2020, but we're here."
Joey Richmond, like Smith a recent Glenbard West graduate and a former football star at the school, echoed those thoughts. He addressed the crowd in front of the village hall.
"Glen Ellyn is a great town, I love living here, lived here my whole life, a lot of things are great about Glen Ellyn, but I shouldn't have to be scared that police might pull me over or stop me compared to other people. That's the biggest thing," Richmond said. "What happened in Minneapolis shouldn't happen. We just want change in general and the support of the people."
Joey Nenova, a white student at College of DuPage, empathized with those concerns.
"I've seen plenty of people oppressed, I've seen some of my close friends being called out, being called racial slurs, I have seen people that are dear to me oppressing others, and I don't think that's right," Nenova said. "It's about time that everybody who is open speak out and bring attention to these issues."
To that end, Nenova carried a sign with the words "Silence is the voice of the oppressed" and started frequent chants during the march.
"I'm not going to stay silent because it's controversial. I'm going to speak about it so I can open people's eyes so they can open their ears and listen," Nenova said. "I know many people are quiet because they don't want to say anything because it is controversial and problematic. I wanted to stop my silence hear today and inform people that even being quiet is a stance."
Gabe Koenig, a black college-aged Glen Ellyn resident, said "it meant everything" to have such a large gathering Monday. He spoke at the event because he wanted "things to change" and to "make our voices heard" in a peaceful manner.
"What happened to George Floyd was really messed up and really unfortunate because it's been going around for a long time," Koenig said. "We're trying to get our voices out, but there's no reason to break stuff and blow stuff up. You can do it peacefully like we did here. We just need a strong voice."