Highland Park, Community

A Fourth for all in Highland Park

Two years after shooting, Highland Park works together to create a variety of Fourth of July opportunities

The Fourth of July in Highland Park will never be the same — a chilling reality that the Highland Park community accepted, and even embraced, leading up to the summer holiday this year.

Thanks to two years of expert guidance and thoughtful conversations, City officials aimed to create a Fourth of July schedule that enabled remembrance and reflection as well as joy and celebration.

But that was only half the challenge. At the same time, the day’s activities had to consider community members who are not ready — physically or emotionally — to fully participate and those who may never be.

“We understand and recognize there are people in various stages and will be throughout their lives as this holiday comes and goes,” Mayor Nancy Rotering told media members Thursday, July 4. “With that in mind, we are trying to provide opportunities, discreet opportunities, for people to be heard, to be supported, to be recognized, and also to help this community not be defined by this tragedy but to be … able to support one another and to move forward.”


Yaneli Calleja and Iker Calleja, of Highwood, grab a selfie while waiting for the parade.

The day began with a morning Remembrance Ceremony, and an afternoon parade marched right into a FourthFest at Sunset Woods Park until the early evening.

The parade was the first since July 4, 2022, when a gunman opened fire into the crowd, killing seven people and injuring more than 40 others. In 2023, the first Fourth after the shooting, a memorial walk made its way along the same path as the ’22 parade, “reclaiming the route,” as officials said. In the return of the parade this year, participants walked two blocks on Laurel Avenue before turning north to Central Avenue, bypassing the block at the center of the tragedy.

Lisa Nanus, of Highland Park, attended the parade in 2022. After a family discussion, Nanus returned with her family to take in the parade and then head to FourthFest. She praised officials for their decisions around this year’s events.

“It was a little hard to decide whether to come, but we really want to make this holiday fun again, try to put it in the past, while also being cautious,” she said. “I’m glad we did it. I thought it was a very good introduction back into the parade. It was a calmer parade, which helped. It wasn’t very loud or busy. I am thankful for that.”

Yaneli Calleja and her son, Iker Calleja, also enjoyed the parade from a quiet patch of grass in the parkway, a spot on Laurel where they sat yards from anyone else.

She was not at the parade in 2022, and the decision to come this year was not cut and dry.

“I was a little unsure and (Iker’s) dad had second thoughts, but it’s one of those things where you have to be aware of your surroundings and not let other things stop you from living your life,” Yaneli Calleja said. “I wanted him to enjoy the Fourth of July parade with me.

“It feels safe and calm. I don’t feel too uneasy. I am happy that we came.”

Thirty-six entries signed up for this year’s parade, Rotering said. Public officials and community groups made up a majority of the participants in the “scaled-back” event.

The parade’s pomp was toned down. Fewer flashing lights, fewer blaring horns and more space softened the experience. But politicians still waved, and children still hoarded candy. Decorated dogs and bicycles still made the crowd cheer.

Remembering first

A luminaria on stage during the Remembrance Ceremony on Thursday.

Highland Park’s Fourth of July began at 10 a.m. in Edgewood Middle School’s auditorium with a Remembrance Ceremony to honor the lives of July 4, 2022’s seven victims: Katie Goldstein, Irina McCarthy, Kevin Michael McCarthy, Stephen Straus, Jacki Lovi Sundheim, Nicolás Toledo and Eduardo Uvaldo.

Providing words of reflection were Rotering; Rabbi Michael Schwab, of North Suburban Synagogue Beth El; and Deacon Louie Vignocchi, of Christ Our Hope Parish.

Schwab spoke about the resiliency the Highland Park community has shown and must continue to show.

“As we look back, we must also therefore look forward,” he said. “We must remember today the destructive power of anger, hatred and violence. We must learn that succumbing to these forces benefits no one. And we must remember, even more so, our capacity for love, connection and blessing.

“Each of us personally, and all of us collectively, can bring goodness into the world in the form of comfort, service, compassion, and love.”

Highland Park’s Poet Laureate Laura Joyce-Hubbard read an original piece in honor of the day, and 18-year-old Hannah Cohen performed an emotional version of Faith Hill’s hit “There You’ll Be.”

Though the facility had empty seats here and there, the event was at capacity, officials said, and included news cameras and journalists from across Chicagoland and beyond, as well as elevated security inside and outside the school building.

Ellen Diamond and Sherwin Waldman, 34-year residents of Highland Park, attended the ceremony but did not plan to participate in the rest of the day’s programming.

Diamond said she marched in the parade with her dog for years, and while she and Waldman weren’t feeling it this year, they made sure to pay their respects at the ceremony.

“It’s a somber day, a sober day,” Diamond said. “… It was a no-brainer (to be here). There isn’t anywhere else I’d rather be.”

Options to observe

Nora Nanus (left) and Millie Nanus climb the rock wall during FourthFest.

FourthFest, a product of the Park District of Highland Park at Sunset Woods Park, delivered classic Fourth of July festivities.

Bounce castles and obstacles courses, a rock wall, food trucks and a main stage kept parents and children plenty busy into the early evening.

For those looking for an alternative on the Fourth, The Art Center of Highland Park was one organization opening its doors. From 10 a.m.-3 p.m., guests could enjoy a “quiet alternative” to the City-sponsored events. All exhibits were open, and people were encouraged to bring picnic items and participate in family art projects.

Many businesses along Central Avenue and beyond were also open for the day. Central Cafe was one of them.

On July 4, 2022, as the shooting erupted, the cafe — like many around it — became a refuge for those looking for shelter. Two years later, of course the cafe was open, said Carlos Garcia, the shop’s chef and manager.

“It wasn’t a hard decision to stay open,” he said. “We really love giving back to the community and providing them a place to meet and chat and grab some refreshments for their day. They support us and we want to support them.”

The Record is a nonprofit, nonpartisan community newsroom that relies on reader support to fuel its independent local journalism.

Subscribe to The Record to fund responsible news coverage for your community.

Already a subscriber? You can make a tax-deductible donation at any time.

joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

Related Stories