There were food trucks set up, and children’s activities were underway Friday at Caldwell Woods Forest Preserve on the Far Northwest Side of Chicago.
Beneath a band shell, which featured a Puerto Rican flag, a band played tunes for those who gathered for a celebration.
Two months ago, the area was the site of a rant caught on video, a man berating a woman for wearing a shirt that featured a Puerto Rican flag. On Friday, it was the scene of a party meant to denounce that attack, which led to two counts of felony hate crime for the man accused. It also aimed to promote unity.
Friday’s program, called “Peace in the Preserves,” was presented by the Northwest Side Coalition Against Racism and Hate, along with the Puerto Rican Agenda, Puerto Rican Bar Association of Illinois, Forest Preserves of Cook County and Portage Park for Action, Respect and Community.
Engy Sutherland, like many in the Chicago area, felt upset after viewing the video, which went viral. Timothy Trybus has been charged with a felony hate crime. Mia Irizarry was the target of the rant, and she posted the video.
“We’re a group of residents who were sad to hear about the incident,” said Sutherland, spokeswoman for the Northwest Side Coalition Against Racism and Hate. “Someone felt unwelcomed, and the person (who was charged) was local. We decided to host an event to promote unity.”
Some at the event wore shirts with an image of the Puerto Rican flag merged with the Forest Preserves of Cook County logo.
Chicago resident Natalie Sawyer said she was motivated to come to Caldwell Woods with her daughter, Isla, and her sons, Jude and Trey.
“When we heard this was going on, I thought it’d be a nice way to show the kids we stand for love, not hate,” she said.
Sawyer said she frequently visits one of the forest preserve properties, McCormick Woods, and that she donates her time to help clean it.
“It was shocking and disappointing,” she said of the video. “We spend a lot of time in the preserves. We were concerned for our family’s safety.”
Chicago resident Mara Flores, who said she originally is from Mexico, said she also volunteers in the forest preserves.
“It makes me feel unwelcomed because I just arrived to the city,” she said of the rant caught on video. “I didn’t expect it.”
The program, emceed by Michael Rabbit of the Northwest Side Coalition Against Racism and Hate, included messages shared by the Rev. Sarah Jordan, pastor of Friendship Presbyterian Church; Andrew Lyke of the Arusi Network; Claudia Farfan Badillo of the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Illinois; and Mariana Osoria of the public affairs committee for the Puerto Rican Agenda.
Among organizations represented at Caldwell Woods were Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Showing Up for Racial Justice, and CARPLS Everyday Justice.
Eileen Figel, deputy superintendent for Forest Preserves of Cook County, said the organization worked with community organizations because “it’s important to us and all the work we’ve done to make everyone feel welcome, (and that) it’s not undone by a single event.”
“All of us were appalled by what happened,” she said. “We were delighted when we were approached to host an event to promote peace and to celebrate the community’s diversity.”
She added the event has “made all of us think of the rash of hateful and ugly incidents all over the country and the people that are saying and doing hateful things.”
“They’re wrong, and they’re part of the problem,” she said. “The people who stand by and let it happen are also wrong. We all have to stand up against it.”