In this day and age, it’s all about the now. The Chicago Defender Charities, Inc. is well aware of that, which is why this year anyone attending the 85th Annual Bud Billiken Parade, Aug. 9, will be able to vote for their favorite performers and floats from their phones and tablets.
“As they’re coming down the street, you can vote for the unit, there is a number on each vehicle or a name associated with a number,” Col. Eugene F. Scott, president of The Chicago Defender Charities, Inc. said.
The Bud Billiken Parade is billed as the second largest parade in the country, behind the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, and has always been a highly anticipated back-to-school event for Chicagoans. This year attendees will be able to see Chaka Khan, Diggy Simmons, D-Low, known for the “DLow Shuffle,” and rappers Y-Dot and G-Dot. The grand marshall is Marlon Marshall, special assistant to the president and principal deputy director of public engagement.
The parade kicks off Saturday, Aug. 9 at 10 a.m. The procession will start at the intersection of Martin Luther King Dr. and Oakwood Blvd. and end at Garfield Blvd. (55th St.) and Ellsworth Dr.
Families will be able to participate in activities after the parade in Washington Park on the Southeast side of 51st St. and King Dr. There will be entertainment and school supply giveaways. The Bud Billiken Wellness Center will be in Washington Park. There will be diabetes screenings and HIV testing. People can also check their blood pressure. There will also be giveaways like certificates for free mammograms. The Cook County Health and Hospital System is working with the Chicago Defender Charities. There will also be HIV and STD prevention materials.
Ald. Pat Dowell, of the 3rd Ward, said she goes to the parade every year because it’s relaxing.
“I always look forward to it because it’s a fun time for families to celebrate the end of summer and the beginning of the school year and I like to see King Drive full of people,” Dowell said.
“This is one of the best events of the year and it’s in my ward,” she said.
The Chicago Defender was created May 5, 1905 by Robert Sengstacke Abbott. The concept behind starting the newspaper was to use it to address issues important to African Americans. Abbott expanded the paper by adding a section for children. Robert Watkins was responsible for editing the content. Watkins was known as Bud Billiken. The children’s section also included an application for youth to fill out if they were interested in becoming members of the “Bud Billiken Club.” Billiken is known as the guardian of little children, according to Chinese legend.
It was with this concept that Abbott decided to start a parade. The first procession took place in 1929 with the goal of giving underprivileged youth a place to showcase their talents.
“From the very beginning it has been an opportunity for African American youth to participate in a parade, a huge event, where they can demonstrate their skills like dancing, and in many cases, it has been their only opportunity,” Scott said.
Chicago historian, Timuel Black, has made it his goal to attend each Bud Billiken Parade. At 95-years-old, he has been to more than he can count.
“If you didn’t go, you didn’t live in the neighborhood,” Black said.
He said the parade was on a much smaller scale in the early days, but the majority of the Black community made sure they were there. As a teenager, Black said iconic entertainers like Earl Hines and Nat King Cole would perform.
He said historically, the parade means something for Black Chicagoans.
“Throughout history, since the very beginning, it has brought people together in unity and harmony,” Black said. “It was also an opportunity to inform and get huge numbers of people to become more active in their communities, as it relates to education, political and job programs.”
Scott, who has been in his position for 25 years now, said that over the years, he has seen the talent get stronger each year.
“I saw the South Shore Drill Team go from undisciplined to now a disciplined world class unit,” Scott said. “I’ve seen the bands do the same thing, one of the suburban bands was invited to march in the National Centennial for China [three years ago].”
Many well-known people have participated in the Bud. Names like Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, James Brown, Tyler Perry and even Barack Obama, then a senator, have made appearances.
“It is a family oriented event, it’s a fun day and the weather is always good,” Scott said.
“It’s probably one of the best in the city and it’s the best on the south side for our kids because of the positive entertainment.”