Iwas sitting and chatting with Bud Billiken the other day. He’s pretty busy this time of year, getting ready for the Aug. 9 Bud Billiken Parade, the largest parade of its kind in the world. But we had the occasion to talk about the reason he exists, and t

I was sitting and chatting with Bud Billiken the other day. He’s pretty busy this time of year, getting ready for the Aug. 9 Bud Billiken Parade, the largest parade of its kind in the world.

But we had the occasion to talk about the reason he exists, and the reason why he has lasted all of these years and his parade continues to grow larger and larger, even as other so-called institutions have gone by the wayside.

Bud, who still proudly sports that outrageous afro and hasn’t aged a year, despite the passage of time, is very clear on his mission: to take care of the children of Chicago and encourage them to excel in all that they do.

Back when kids sold the Chicago Defender on the streets, Robert Sengstacke Abbott thought of coming up with a way to support them. Selling newspapers wasn’t the most lucrative job at the time (though the money paid to those newsboys rivals what teen burger flippers make now).

That effort has grown into the Bud Billiken Parade, which draws an estimated 1.2 million people to the parade route. It is a day of celebration and a day of enjoyment. It is regarded as the end of the summer for school students (and their parents), even though another three weeks will pass before the beginning of the Chicago Public Schools’ first day of classes.

I offered to buy Bud some chicken and waffles, but he said he really only eats during the parade, which is why he is able to keep his two-dimensional shape. He expects to chow down on ribs, potato salad, fried chicken, corn on the cob, watermelon and almost anything you can put on a grill. He’ll drink water (probably not out of the bottle) so he won’t get dehydrated, but this is his month, so he’ll splurge a little.

Bud told me that over the years, it seems that more and more grown folks are in the parades, and not as many kids. He thought the day was supposed to be set aside as a day for the kids to be in the limelight, not the politicians and other grown folks. But he said that most of the grown folks in the parade are doing things for kids (or at least promising to do things for kids), so it is OK.

Bud said he has no favorite performers in the parade. He is impressed by the drill teams, and the Jesse White Tumblers always take his breath away, doing those high-flying moves over concrete and asphalt. He is also in awe of the young people in the bands, wearing full regalia in some of the hottest summer heat, and playing so well for blocks and blocks.

Bud said that he still misses Dr. Marjorie Stewart Joyner, who, as president of The Chicago Defender Charities, headed up the parade for more than 50 years. But he is proud of Col. Eugene Scott, who now heads up the Charities. The parade keeps growing and growing and growing and is televised nationally. I told Bud I got calls from people all over the country who couldn’t believe the parade was so big and was completely sponsored by Black people.

Bud mused about some of his more memorable parades when the kids were strutting their stuff, and bands were especially sharp and the weather cooperated fully. He talked about the time that Muhammad Ali fellow came to the parade or the time that fine Lena Horne was there. Bud is old enough to remember when those folks from Amos ‘N Andy were at the parade and were really popular. I told him they probably wouldn’t be welcome at the parade this year, and he shook his head. “Everything in the proper time,” he said. “But they were funny.”

Beyond the parade, however, Bud is especially proud of the fact that year after year, the Chicago Defender Charities is able to raise money for scholarships for deserving students and this year gave out nearly $300,000. It is, after all, why Bud Billiken exists, to help the children. Not only are there scholarships, but during the year the Charities provides other needs for children.

That is the most important thing to remember, that Bud Billiken is the protector of children. He can’t do it alone, of course, and he is always looking for help — either financial help or help from volunteers. At a time when it seems our children need so much, Bud is willing to do more, but he said we grown-ups–parents, teachers, businesses, politicians, newspaper editors and newspaper readers have to get involved as well.

Lou Ransom is executive editor of the Chicago Defender. He can be reached via email at lransom@chicagodefender.com

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