West Side leaders speak out on attack on Oak Park Cafe

Brick wrapped in racist message found outside of Live Cafe, owned by Austin native

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Stacey Sheridan & Michael Romain

Surrounded by community members and broadcast news cameras, Live Café owner and Austin native Reesheda Graham-Washington spoke Thursday about the recent racist attack on her Oak Park Avenue business, where someone attempted to throw a brick carrying a racial slur through the café's window, causing it minor physical damage.

"Our souls are damaged by this offense," said Graham-Washington told the masked crowd. "This damage, this harm – it sits in the seat alongside 401 years of trauma."

The paper-wrapped brick was discovered early Wednesday morning outside Live Café. Scrawled on the paper were the words "No n — on the ballot."

Oak Park police continue to investigate the incident.

Live Café is serving as the campaign headquarters of Black village trustee candidates Juanta Griffin, Anthony Clark and Chibuike Enyia. Clark and Enyia both face challenges to their candidacies. The attack's timing lined up with Clark and Enyia's electoral board objection hearing, which took place Wednesday afternoon. At the same moment, insurrectionists descended on Washington, D.C., taking over the capitol building for several hours.

At the press conference, Graham-Washington referenced the attack on the Capitol and President Donald Trump while asking the public to consider those in the community who fail to condemn unsavory and racist acts committed at home. 

"Just as Trump was the perpetrator of yesterday's incidents complicitly," she said, "I would encourage you to think about who the complicit perpetrators of yesterday's events are."

Graham-Washington asked people to financially contribute to organizations that promote racial equity and to support Black-owned businesses to redistribute wealth and power. A GoFundMe campaign started yesterday by a community member in support of Live Café's anti-racist mission has already accumulated about half of its $10,000 goal.

"We don't have systemic racism on our side to put the things in our hands," said Graham-Washington.

Clark and Enyia attended the press conference, as well. Griffin, who is recovering from surgery, was unable to attend, but told Wednesday Journal she was saddened not to "be with my people right now." 

In his address to the crowd, Clark called racism a viral pandemic, but one with a widely available vaccine: anti-racism.

"It is not enough to not be racist," said Clark. "You have to be anti-racist."

Clark said the racist ideologies perpetuated by the insurgents that stormed the Capitol building started at home, started with vandalism in the community and, in a nod to his own campaign situation, "it started with challenges to Black candidates and communities that are pushing for change."

Enyia asked the crowd not to cower or be intimidated, but to speak out against racism and in support of those who others try to silence because of their skin color.

"This happens over and over again, because people don't speak up," Enyia said. "Because the people who have the most ability to help us out feel that we should do this ourselves."

Multiple religious leaders, including Rabbi Max Weiss of Oak Park Temple B'nai Abraham Zion, Rev. Ira Acree of Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin and Rev. Marshall Hatch of New Mount Pilgrim Church in Garfield Park, spoke out in support of Graham-Washington and Black political candidates, even as they condemned racism and hatred. 

"What the enemy meant for evil ... God has made it to be for the good," Acree said. "Something good will come out of this."

"The fact is, we are all, as some of us have fought many fights over the years, we are all West Siders, whether you know it or not," said Hatch, who lives in Austin, several blocks away from Live Cafe. "We are all one community."

"An attack on Live is an attack on all of us," said Weiss. "It is an attack on the values that bind us together. It must be met with the forces of justice and the forces of love."

Hatch referenced the attack on Capitol Hill during his address to the crowd, using it as an example of the negative consequences that occur when hatred is appeased. 

Organizer Makesha Flournoy, an organizer with Black Residents of Oak Park, told the crowd that it wasn't by happenstance that the brick was found on the same day as Clark and Enyia's objection hearings. Graham-Washington and Flournoy are both members of the coalition backing Griffin, Clark and Enyia's trustee runs.

Flournoy also called out Kevin Peppard, the person who filed the petition challenges. Referring to him as a "joker," Flournoy reminded the crowd that Peppard filed challenges in 2016 against two incumbent Black trustees, Glenn Brewer and Peter Barber, causing them to lose their seats. 

A vigil is being held outside Live Café at 5 p.m., Thursday night. According to Graham-Washington, the vigil is a moment for healing.

"We're not going to be able to address our problem, our pervasive, racist, misogynistic, oppressive problem that we are addicted to until we come out of denial," she said.

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