On an afternoon when violence erupted after a rally by white nationalists in Virginia, volunteers in Aurora blew balloons, erected tents, conducted sound checks and fired up grills at a party to promote unity.
The inaugural Backyard Party at Metea Valley High School on Saturday was one in a series of events organized by the Unity Partnership group to break down barriers between law enforcement and civilians.
"I believe in working for the human race," said Marquell Oliver, a college senior and Metea grad, who spearheaded the event. It's important to "see each other in a better light despite where we come from, where we're at socioeconomically ... and do right by each other."
Participants sampled food, played touch football and basketball, and listened to live music.
The partnership has sponsored sports games with police and teens from youth homes in Kane and DuPage counties, held forums for minorities on how to safely navigate a traffic stop, and partnered with local prosecutors and police chiefs.
Multiple high-profile police shootings of black people caused protests across the United States and hit home in the suburbs after the death of Sandra Bland in 2015. The 28-year-old Naperville woman was jailed after a confrontational traffic stop in Texas by a white officer and died in her cell.
"We want to change the narrative of what's happening in the country," said Lisle Police Chief David Anderson, who had ditched his uniform for a T-shirt and jeans. "I'm the gopher, I'm carrying things," he said of his role at the party.
Unity Partnership was founded by Naperville's Regina Brent who said, "I think we're making a difference. I think we're saving lives. I think we're eradicating stereotypes."
Attendees included families, police officers in blue, officials such as Naperville Police Chief Bob Marshall and DuPage State's Attorney Robert Berlin, and community members representing different faiths and ethnicities.
"When you're a Sikh and you wear a turban on your head, the discrimination is front and center," said Roger Chawla, who volunteers for Unity Partnership as its treasurer. He said that "the more we talk to each other, the more we realize we're basically the same."
At a time of political and racial polarization in the country, the group is doubly valuable, said attorney Keith Allen. His father, Ronald, an activist and Naperville Township committeeman was a key figure in Unity Partnership until he was shot and killed driving through the west side of Chicago last year.
To learn more about Unity Partnership, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.