BEVERLY — The electronic sign at the Beverly Unitarian Church no longer displays the words "Black Lives Matter."
The church commonly known as The Castle at 10244 S. Longwood Drive had changed the sign as of Wednesday to read "Life Matters Risk Loving Everyone." The change follows an online uproar that included racist rants as well as some hurt feelings.
Cydni Polk, of Blue Island, snapped a picture of the "Black Lives Matter" sign on Monday afternoon. The Beverly native tagged several of her friends and posted the shot on Facebook with the caption, "Why yes ... yes they do ..." and the hashtags #Salute and #MyHood.
"My mother still lives in the house we moved into when I was 3. Though I cannot remember experiencing racism personally within the borders of the community, I also can't remember there being a focus on diversity or cultural sensitivity," Polk said Wednesday.
Her photo quickly spread to online groups throughout the Far Southwest Side. Many supported the church, its sign and the overall sentiment behind the words "Black Lives Matter."
But others took offense, saying the sign promoted divisiveness. Others saw the church's sign as a slight against law enforcement. Still others used the photo as a springboard for racist tirades, viciously attacking the church for promoting the statement.
"To see people's reactions, I was like, 'A ha. Something as small as a scrolling sign can pull back the cover of racism,'" Polk said.
Howard Ludwig discusses the backlash toward the church:
Several attempts to contact the Rev. Karen Mooney, the minister of the church, were unsuccessful Wednesday.
But the church posted a bit of an explanation for the rationale behind the sign on its Facebook page Tuesday evening. Indeed, the Facebook page itself had become a target of much criticism after the sign surfaced online.
The Facebook statement said the church's board choose to post words "Black Lives Matter" on its sign at its mid-August board meeting.
"We felt the message behind these words that for too long black citizens have been demonstrably less valued could inspire us all to look at how we might change," the online statement read.
The open letter went on to explain why the sign was changed to read, "Life Matters Risk Loving Everyone."
"Since this posting, we have been made aware that there is a movement associated with these words that has been accused of being anti-white, anti-police and a terrorist group. We are being educated and are looking at this other side of this. It seems that many in our neighborhood believe these accusations and have been offended and personally hurt by our posted words," the statement read.
The church went on to explain that posting "Black Lives Matter" on its sign was never meant as an endorsement of any specific organization, particularly one that's maligning people working in law enforcement.
"We still believe the premise of this statement," the Facebook post said of "Black Lives Matter."
Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) said he first heard of the billboard over the holiday weekend and was not surprised that the church was getting a bit of blowback in an area that's home to so many police officers, firefighters and other public servants.
But he checked back on the online debate after the sign was changed on Wednesday and was shocked by the vitriol and outright racism that had since become part of the conversation. With that, he reached out to Mooney to offer any help he could.
He believes the photo of the church's sign had gone viral, directing fevered reactions at the church that sits atop the ridge from hardened critics of the movement throughout the country.
"It's very few people that I even recognize from the neighborhood," O'Shea said of the participants in the online furor.
Still, Holland said she was actually encouraged by the majority of the comments and was proud to be part of a community where such topics were part of the discussion both online and around the dinner table.
"Social integration doesn't come easy, but it is times like these that open the door to talk about it," she said.
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