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Report for America is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.

DeKalb Black Lives Matter Vigil Held In Memorial Park

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Members of Black Lives Matter DeKalb gathered Friday night to remember lives lost to police brutality.

The vigil at Memorial Park was organized to honor the lives of George Floyd, Daunte Wright, and Adam Toledo. Jocelyn Santana was one of the organizers of the event, and she says it felt like an important time for the community to come together and “heal.”

"I think when we are given the opportunity to really think about what is happening across society and the differences and treatments, I think we start seeing a different story. And that story is important to not just see it, but then to address it," Santana said.

Credit Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

The vigil was scheduled a couple days after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty by a jury on all counts in the death of George Floyd. But it also comes nearly a year after Floyd's death. Outside of the guilty verdict, many who protested last summer are concerned that there haven’t been enough changes in policing since Floyd’s death. Frankie DiCiaccio says the vigil is a place to make sense of what’s going on and to reflect on these deaths across the nation.

"There is a need to process grief and anger around this," DiCiaccio said. "And this was part making space for that to happen."

Maurice McDavid is a local educator, and says he couldn’t bring himself to watch the trial of Derek Chauvin. He says he’d seen this story play out before, and was pretty sure he knew how it ended. So for McDavid the guilty verdict came as a surprise, but he says that while there’s still a long way to go, this moment does feel like progress.

"The small victories are still victories," McDavid said. 

Jessica Webb was at the vigil holding a picture of Daunte Wright, an unarmed Black man fatally shot by a police officer in Minnesota earlier this month. And, like McDavid, Webb says the guilty verdict in the Chauvin trial represents the bare minimum of justice, but she’ll take it.

"I think even though the verdict was guilty there's nothing to be happy about. To even say 'happy' is like we're happy to someone was actually held accountable for murdering someone. Like that whole concept is just backwards to me."

Some of the organizers brought out packs of sidewalk chalk, and within the hour many of the activists filled the park with colorful messages of hope and solidarity, and even some calls for justice for local victims of police brutality.

DiCiaccio was drawing a flower with BLM written in the middle. And they repeated what a lot of what the other attendees were saying.

"If things are changing, it's happening way too slow," DiCiaccio said.

Northern Illinois University is hosting several events after the recent verdict. That includes Meditation and Healing Circles at NIU’s East Lagoon on Monday afternoon.

  • Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.

Juanpablo covers environmental, substandard housing and police-community relations. He’s been a bilingual facilitator at the StoryCorps office in Chicago. As a civic reporting fellow at City Bureau, a non-profit news organization that focuses on Chicago’s South Side, Ramirez-Franco produced print and audio stories about the Pilsen neighborhood. Before that, he was a production intern at the Third Coast International Audio Festival and the rural America editorial intern at In These Times magazine. Ramirez-Franco grew up in northern Illinois. He is a graduate of Knox College.