WHEATON - Three speakers were scheduled for Wednesday's Black Lives Matter protest in Wheaton’s Adams Park.
But 90 minutes after the protest started, more than 20 people had taken the bullhorn, stepped before the crowd of about 1,000 people and offered passionate, emotional and fervent pleas to end racism and police violence against black people.
The speakers were white and black, male and female, young and old, but the message was the same: racism in all it forms must end and the battle to stop it once and for all is just beginning.
The 1 p.m. protest was planned for Memorial Park, which is fenced off and undergoing improvements, leading participants to move to nearby Adams Park.
Protesters, many carrying signs with a wide array of messages including “Black Lives Matter,” “Only Justice Will Bring Peace” and “We Cannot Be Silent Because the Dead Cannot Speak,” formed a large circle in the center of the park and listened to and applauded each speaker, many who initially did not plan to address the crowd.
The protest was one of several held Wednesday in DuPage, Cook and Kane counties as people harnessed the opportunity to vent their anger and frustration following the May 25 death of George Floyd, who was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis.
“It’s disgusting that we’re begging people to understand that our lives matter, and there are people saying, ‘but this and but that.' But that’s reality, right? No, because we’re not going to let this happen anymore," said one speaker, who declined to give her name.
“We are not criminals. We are not animals," she said. "We are humans, we’re beautiful and we are loved," she continued.
She also chastised people who have criticized the phrase Black Lives Matter because they contend it excludes other races.
“All lives matter," she said. "We’re not screaming that only black lives matter. It’s because all lives matter that we are here protesting the ones that are actually targeted.
“We’re not here to start a race war, we’re here to end one and finally be at the same level as you. So please, if you’re human, have humanity, open your eyes to what’s been going on in this country because I’m tired of having to explain to you why I'm scared, why I feel little, why l feel hurt.”
Jerome Jackson attended the protest with his wife, Julie; son, Lincoln, 6; and daughter, Quinlan, 7.
Jackson, a Wheaton resident, said it was critical that his children see the formation of a movement designed to end racism and bigotry.
“The importance is for them to not only understand the importance of the message that Black Lives Matters and what it means to the greater good of society, but to our own family knowing that I’m an African American myself and raising two bi-racial children. It’s important for them to understand their roots and culture.”
Jackson added that he doesn't want his children to experience the bigotry he endured as a child.
“As someone who grew up primarily in the 80s, I was subjected to bigotry and racism, and I’ve said from the moment they were born that I want them to grow up in a society that doesn't’ view them for their skin color or tone and just views them as human beings," he said.
He added that the size of the protest was encouraging.
“I’m very happy to see as many young people out supporting this cause and just standing up for what is right,” Jackson said.
Following the protest, participants marched through downtown Wheaton chanting “Black Lives Matter.”
Dan Clinch of Wheaton said he attend the protest because “it was the right thing to do."
"This just can’t go on," he added. “What happened in Minneapolis, there’s no excuse in the world for it.”
Clinch said he expects the movement to continue because Floyd's death was a tipping point.
“You heard the young people today," he said. "This was very impressive.”
Clinch's daughter, Campbell, a Wheaton North graduate, and a friend of some of the speakers, said she saw numerous racist incidents while attending the high school.
“You hear the N-word, you do hear things about white supremacy, you hear people calling African Americans animals. There’s no justification for that," she said.