It's been 14 years since the deadly Benjamin Smith shooting spree that killed two and wounded six in Chicago and surrounding areas, but the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago has not forgotten the victims and their families.
This fall, the youngest child of Ricky Byrdsong, the African-American Northwestern University basketball coach slain in the 1999 hate crime, will receive the final installment in a series of college scholarships the JUF pledged to the family in the wake of the shootings.
"This has been an absolute blessing for my three children, and of course that means for me as well," said Sherialyn Byrdsong, Ricky's widow, who added that the JUF scholarships were the only private outside aid her children received. "My two daughters have graduated and my son is on the home stretch. It has just been a blessing."
The scholarships were awarded by the JUF Fund for Hate Crime Victims and Families, established immediately following the tragedy that killed Byrdsong and Won-Joon Yoon, a Korean post-graduate student in Bloomington, Ind. Nine others were also wounded in the shootings, including six Jewish members of the West Rogers Park neighborhood who were on their way home from Shabbat services.
Jewish and non-Jewish community members alike contributed a total of $13,000 to start the Fund, which the JUF matched. The first commitment made was to provide scholarships to Byrdsong's three children, who each received $2,000 a year for four years toward higher education.
In addition to those scholarships, the Fund also provides assistance to other area families affected by bigotry-related violence.
The Jewish community has long been at the forefront of national and state efforts to deter and counteract hate-motivated activity. Over the course of the past two decades, some 40 states, including Illinois, have enacted hate crime laws in addition to federal initiatives to combat hate crimes.
On Oct. 28, 2009, President Obama signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a monumental piece of legislation the JCRC has advocated has advocated for over a decade. This bill greatly strengthened and expanded hate crime legislation in the United States, to include those crimes motivated by the victim's gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability. The bill also improved the means by which hate crimes are prosecuted, allowing federal officials to assist local law enforcement in dealing with hate crimes.
Hate crimes are those based on bigotry, and are committed because of the intended victim's actual or perceived ancestry, color, creed, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability (including HIV status), or national origin.
If the JUF Fund for Hate Crime Victims and Families does not receive additional revenue, it will be depleted by fall of 2015. To make a donation to this fund, call Katie Bartholomew at (312) 357-4828.