Demonstrations calling for the end of racism and injustice continued in Sterling for the second straight day, as the YWCA of the Sauk Valley organized a march from downtown Sterling to Rock Falls and back.
More than 300 people made the nearly two-thirds of a mile walk from the YWCA's facility at First Avenue and Fifth Street in Sterling across First Avenue Bridge to RB&W Riverfront Park in Rock Falls.
Many donned orange shirts; others had black shirts with the names of African Americans killed in racial injustice.
Nearly 100 people brought signs.
One name was in larger print among the many on the shirts, as well as on most signs: George Floyd.
Floyd, a 46-year-old African American, was killed while in police custody May 25 in Minneapolis. The killing sparked not only riots and protests, but also calls for action such as Friday's gathering, as well as a candlelight vigil Thursday at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Sterling, and repeated demonstrations along Galena Avenue in Dixon.
Tina Wren, president of the Diversity Committee of the Sauk Valley, helped organize Thursday's gathering and also spoke Friday. So did Whiteside County Sheriff John Booker, Sterling Police Chief Tim Morgan, and Michael Cole, pastor of Worship Center Ministries in Dixon.
"I am glad we're standing here together to fight against racism and injustice," Wren said. "We cannot let it end here. We have to fight beyond today. We have to fight beyond tomorrow.
"We didn't just go through it by ourselves, being people of color; we all went through it. Sometimes when I hurt, you hurt. When your friends are hurting, you are hurt."
Booker and Morgan, both with around 30 years of police service, agreed that the actions of police in Minneapolis were "a disgrace," Booker said.
Derek Chauvin, a now former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder in Floyd's death, knelt on Floyd's neck until Floyd died of asphyxiation.
Morgan considered Chauvin "a dirtbag who's wearing a uniform [who] did wrong and is affecting an entire nation."
Morgan talked about the importance of positive policing in his department.
"The development of those relationships are for times like these, where a bad apple ignited a bad apple," he said.
"We can come together – Whiteside County, Rock Falls, and Sterling – and be peaceful, be respectful."
Booker echoed Morgan's thoughts.
"We can unite if we believe in each other. That is the only way we can get through things, uniting and believing in each other. We don't always agree, we may disagree, but in the bottom line, we're going to do the best thing for the county, for our cities, and for all of us."
Cole sang the gospel song "No Man is an Island" to a large round of applause, and called for people to look deeper into history and understand moments of injustice that were "written out of history books," he said.
"People who don't know history are bound to repeat it," Cole said. "The reason why we're gathered here right now is because we've been repeating history over and over and over again.
"I'm here to stand with you and let you know that we're going to understand our history and we're not going to repeat it ... ever again!
"The eradication of injustice starts with each and every one of us."
Keyon Wolber, 19, of Rock Falls, thought it was great to see many people come together "as a community."
"It's a great cause and something that means a lot to me, a lot of my peers and family," he said. "It makes me really happy to see that everyone came together for a cause like this to stop this."
Laura Rodriguez, 34, of Sterling, was glad the demonstration was peaceful.
"There is a lot of support, and a lot more people than I anticipated coming," she said. "I have faith that the younger generation will be the ones that make that final change."