BRONZEVILLE — The annual Bud Billiken Parade has plenty of music, tumbling and dancing but for some it’s not just about the fun.
The parade, a centerpiece of the black community for generations, took over King Drive from 35th Street to 51st Street. It took on new meaning this year after Chicago Public Schools announced the closing of 50 schools in May.
A slew of dignitaries, including Grand Marshal Yohannes Abraham, a special assistant to President Barack Obama; Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gov. Pat Quinn, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and others, marched to promote the value of education.
“Today is a kickoff to remind everybody about the first day of school,” said Emanuel. “Nothing is more important to the city of Chicago than the quality of education throughout the city regardless of where they live.”
Attendees echoed that sentiment.
“It’s to promote kids getting themselves ready and encouraged to go back to school,” said Artrice Bunzy of Bronzeville.
Bunzy, 30 brought her 13-year-old daughter with her to enjoy “everything” about the tradition before she returns to Chicago Quest, a charter school.
“I just love the music, the entertainment and the costumes,” Bunzy said. “Plus, all the African Americans coming together to enjoy this experience. It’s part of our culture.”
Cleopatra Agee, 29 has been coming to the parade since she was young even participating in the parade when she was a cheerleader at Corliss High School almost 10 years ago.
“It’s just part of Chicago… seeing the bands, the food and the people,” Agee said.
Today, Agee and her boyfriend brought their 6- and 7-year-old daughters for their first Bud Billiken Day Parade but most likely not their last.
“We came as a family. It’s our tradition. It’s something we’re definitely trying to do every year,” Agee said.
Carol Brewer, 60 also hopes to pass the tradition of the parade down to her nieces and nephews. The Chatham resident has been coming to parade since she was 5 and comes back for the floats along with “the pleasant memories the parade when we made a whole day with family.”
“It’s just the history of it all and what it stands for especially with all the problems we have going on with education,” Brewer said.
Brewer still sees hope in the parade thanks to politicians and community leaders who took time out of the parade to take pictures with the families along the parade route especially, Jesse Jackson.
“It means he still has his foot in the community and [is] working hard to keep it going in the right direction,” she said.
Chicago Defender founder, the late Robert Sengstacke Abbott, started the parade in 1929.
Chicago Defender Charities was founded in 1945 as the charity arm of the Chicago Defender newspaper. Since 2003, the charity has raised $1.2 million for its scholarship program benefiting needy college students.
Bud Billiken is a fictional character dreamed up the Abbott. Writer Willard Motley wrote columns in the Defender under the nom de plume Bud Billiken in the middle part of the 20th Century, and the paper ran a comic strip called “Bud Billiken.” The billiken became a source of black pride and hope.