One of the most anticipated days of the summer is approaching. The second Saturday in August has become known in Chicago as the day when neighbors sit out in lawn chairs along King Drive, barbecue pits are fired up on the South Side, kids run freely behind the barricades awaiting the South Shore Drill Team, the Jesse White tumblers, and the popular bands and dance teams that march down the street. Oh, and we can’t forget all of the elected officials and politicians who turn out in full force to greet everyone.
It’s Bud Billiken Parade day—and for the 89th year, the largest African American parade will roll on Saturday, August 11 from 39th Street South on King Drive toward Washington Park. As usual, the parade will culminate with a festival in the park. The parade kicks off at 10 a.m. and the festival portion in the park continues from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. (or until ya’ll leave!)
This year, Myiti Sengstacke-Rice, the Chicago Defender Charities President and CEO, is also the parade chair for the first time. She is working with a new parade coordinator, Antoine Anderson, and a team to make the parade and festival another fun-filled day celebrating Chicago’s community and students.
“This [Bud Billiken Parade and Festival] is one of the events that is rare,” Sengstacke-Rice told the Defender. “We don’t have anything else out there like this; this is the largest African American parade in the United States, and with all of the negative things we hear out there in the news, this is the one thing that feels good; it gets the family together and lets us support each other and celebrate each other.”
The parade was started for that very reason. Robert Sengstacke Abbott, founding publisher of the Chicago Defender, began the Bud Billiken Parade on August 11, 1929, to help kids get ready to return to school. Bud Billiken was a fictitious character Abbot created in 1927; Bud served as the protector of children and encouraged, inspired and promoted their interest in education.
This year’s theme really captures the essence of Abbott’s goals: “Back to School, Back to Work, Back to Life, Back to Bud.”
As always, the parade honors educational excellence. This year, 12-year-old Dorothy Jean Tillman is one of the honorary marshals who will be riding in the parade. Her story of graduating from college at age 12 continues to inspire young people to excel and do their best.
The Back to Work part of the theme will be carried out with a work force pavilion at the end-of-the-parade festival in Washington Park. Plenty of information and resources will be available, such as information on interviewing skills, available jobs, as well as employers from different companies who may be able to assist in job searches. Sengstacke-Rice said, “We have so many great community partners and we wanted to showcase what else we are doing; we can support the students with book bag giveaways and get them ready for school, but at the same time what about the parents who need jobs? We have something for everyone. This is a multi-generational event.”
As for Back to Life, Sengstacke-Rice explained that means back to health and wellness so there will be a pavilion dedicated to providing information on taking better care of yourself at the festival.
And Back to Bud means getting back to the old school family reunion style of the annual day in Chicago, where people can reminisce about their childhood and how they enjoyed growing up looking forward to the Bud Billiken parade. It’s a time to bring out the grill and sit and have a great time—all while supporting positive parts of the African American experience.
Leadership for the parade is new this year, according to Sengstacke-Rice, who is the granddaughter of John H.H. Sengstacke, who became publisher of the Defender and several other Black newspapers after his uncle died, “We are looking to make it very organized…make it go smoothly. We have the support of the City and are working with them.”
There will be a senior tent where several elders have been invited to watch the parade near the viewing stand. If this goes well, more tents will be placed throughout the route in the future to give seniors a cooler place to enjoy the parade. The City also has several cooling stations throughout the route to make sure people stay healthy while watching the parade and enjoying the festival. The Prince Hall Masons of Bronzeville will volunteer along with many off duty and retired police officers.
And everyone always looks forward to the marshals. This year the official grand marshals are comedian and actor Deon Cole (“black-ish”) and rapper Vic Mensa, both of whom have been big supporters of Chicago. The celebrity guest marshals hail from the cast of the Showtime series “The Chi.” Jacob Latimore and Jason Mitchell will make special appearances. Other celebrity guest appearances are expected too.
Carrying on a Legacy
“It is an honor to be able to carry on the vision and legacy of Robert Sengstacke Abbott,” Sengstacke-Rice said. “I don’t take it lightly and I am honored to be in this position and excited about it. We decided to go back to where he (Abbott) was coming from and build from there. It is important to really respect the legacy and the past and look at where we are today and how we can create and build from it. Our slogan (for the Defender Charities) is inspired by, building on, and living out legacy…that’s what we are doing. I have a team that has bought into it (slogan and mission) and we work together and say how we can take what Abbott has envisioned and expand upon that.”
Sengstacke-Rice pointed out that Bud Billiken has always been about youth, and the Chicago Defender Charities work very hard to celebrate youth’s talent and academic excellence throughout the year. The foundation supports the dance teams, bands and participants by helping them raise money for uniforms and performances. Many people don’t realize the amount of money needed to participate on these teams and in the bands.
“People don’t understand what it costs,” Sengstacke-Rice said. “You have dance practice, transportation, food…we work hard to support that.” She said the foundation also collaborates with the youth teams on mentoring and to encourage them to keep their grades up.
The Charities also supports youth through scholarships and other activities that enhance their education. Each year, the foundation gives more than $25,000 in scholarships.
The Defender Charities is always grateful to sponsors who will have prominent spaces in the parade and some at the festival.
This year, as we go Back to School, Back to Work, Back to Life and Back to Bud, the Defender Charities hopes Chicago will turn out for the parade and festival and enjoy the old school feel of supporting each other.
“Come out and celebrate each other’s accomplishments,” Sengstacke-Rice urged. “In a way, we can support each other. Everyone needs support. Coming to Bud Billiken lets you do that. Yes, we showcase talent…but we are also parading in peace; this is a counter to all of the negative. We need Bud.”