The 89th Annual Bud Billiken Parade proved once again that it is one of the events that makes Chicago, particularly the South Side, so great. This past Saturday, August 10, was focused on celebrating youth, education and the African-American community. The parade always marks the end of summer vacation and the beginning of school for Chicago’s youth.
For all the viewers from the sidelines or at home, this Parade moves down Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive from 39th to 55th streets. People from all over the City and different cultures observed the celebration as participants walked in the warm weather to show love, support and inspire everyone. This year it was stimulated by food, families, entertainment, activists and a lineup of politicians.
The 89th Bud Billiken parade featured celebrated figures including Grand Marshals Rapper Vic Mensa and Comedian Deon Cole from ABC’s hit show “Black-ish.” Honorary Marshals included: “The Chi” actors Jason Mitchell and Jacob Latimore; Chicago Legend George Daniels, owner of George’s Music Room; Andrea Evans, Director, Northeastern Illinois University’s Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies; and Cmdr. Zeita Merchant, First African American woman to lead a U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit; and 12-year-old college graduate Dorothy Jean Tillman.
Dozens of bands, as well as Chicago media outlets such as WGCI, V-103 and Power 92 came through to hype up the crowd. There were dance and drill teams, marching units, local and state politicians, floats and celebrities that traveled through Bronzeville before culminating in Washington Park for a picnic with food and drinks, a mini job fair, face painting, games and giveaways including medical screenings and school supplies.
Rapper Vic Mensa, songwriter and Hyde Park native, entered the parade on a motorcycle leading the way with the Martin Luther King High School band behind him. The rapper, who has been an outspoken critic of the police department, finished his duties leading the South Side’s premier back-to-school event before he circled back on his motorcycle to join activists carrying a “Convict Jason Van Dyke” banner. He and his supporters shouted “16 shots, 16 shots” sending vibes through the streets as Rahm Emanuel followed behind them.
According to Mensa’s Instagram page, Mensa and the group were stopped by police officers near 51st Street and had an argument. “You want to arrest me? You want to arrest me, and I’m the grand marshal of the parade?” Mensa shouted. “Go ahead, arrest me.”
Mensa continued to report: “Police tried to cut us off because we have a ‘Convict Jason Van Dyke’ banner. So, the police came, and they threatened to arrest me.”
Mensa and some other members of the groups complained that they were receiving different directions from the police. Despite the disruption between Mensa and the CPD, Mensa gave away supplies at the parade. Earlier that week Mensa handed out over 1,000 backpacks at a giveaway at the ATT store on 86th Cottage Grove.
“We do this, so we can teach the next generation to be more equipped to dig themselves out this hole they put us in and live with love, power and self-respect,” he said.
On Saturday, the parade also served as a campaign spot for the 2019 Chicago mayor’s race. Mayor Rahm Emanuel marched in the parade. As he strolled down the parade route, Emanuel mostly received smiles and cordial handshakes, but he was also greeted by a group of people near 49th Street with a sign that proclaimed, “Rahm Emanuel Got 2 Go.”
The parade came at a time of heightened political tension in the Black community where Emanuel has been trying to rebuild support that eroded after the Laquan McDonald police shooting scandal erupted in late 2015.
Emanuel and police Superintendent Eddie Johnson responded to the bloodshed by assigning 600 additional officers to five police districts on the South and West sides. These are areas that have seen the most significant share of gun violence. The mayor also condemned a culture that he said condones gang activity and too often does not provide police with valuable information they need to apprehend those who pull the trigger.
The issue was top of mind for many of Emanuel’s political opponents Saturday as they greeted voters along the parade route.
“I want to help people. The community is just beat down so much,” said businessman Willie Wilson, who rode part of the route in a red Corvette before walking the rest. “I’m telling people, we don’t need more police officers in the City of Chicago. We need more jobs and contracts in those communities. Let’s try that, because for years, they’ve been putting in police, police, police, and the crime still goes up, up and up.”
For his part, Emanuel mainly focused on the theme of the parade — education. He touted his plan for universal pre-K in the coming years and noted his past push to make full-day kindergarten a reality across the city.
“This September, we’re embarking on a four-year plan where every 4-year-old in the City will get free, full-day pre-K. This is a new beginning,” Emanuel said. “It’s a new day for the City of Chicago — and seven years ago, we didn’t even provide full-day kindergarten for every child. So, when we’re all done, we will have added two additional years of education to a child.”
Other notable politicians who participated in the parade and festivities were JB Pritzker, Dorothy Brown, and Susan Mendoza.
Gayinga Washington, founder and CEO of Women’s Breakthrough Alliance Organization in the Austin community, came out to support the youth with the Mayor of Broadview, Illinois, Katrina Thompson.
Washington stated, “For our culture, we get so much negative press only. This goes to show and prove that we can come together in peace and have fun, and it’s something positive. I’m very excited because there are so many youth in the parade… I love it, it’s my favorite part seeing them dance.”
Vendors along the parade route created a special tradition too. One woman has been coming to the Bud Billiken Parade for the past ten years to sell her ice cones in honor of her mother right in front of the Chicago Defender Building on 44th street.
Ms. Youngblood, (she wouldn’t give me her legal name), who stated she is the low-end’s finest. “This used to be the Metropolitan Funeral Home. My mother passed away in 1992, and we had her funeral here. I come back to this spot every year, and I do this for her to honor her memory. I do remember the Defender being on Michigan, but now that they are here on 44th I still come here every year”.
The Bud Billiken parade was founded by Robert Sengstacke Abbott, the man who founded the Chicago Defender in 1905. Abbott published the first issue of the Defender on May 6, 1905. Abbott used the Defender as a forum to attack racial injustice from the outset. Abbott founded the Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic in 1929, which has developed into an annual celebration for youth, education and African–American life in Chicago, Illinois.
In 1921, Abbott started Defender Junior, a page of his weekly paper devoted to children. It grew to include a club, drawing children across the U.S. and Africa and serving as an alternative to the Boy Scouts in response to the segregation at the time.
Bud Billiken, the page’s fictional editor/mascot described as the guardian and protector of children, was invented by Abbott and the Defender’s executive editor, Lucius Harper. Depending on which authority you ask, the two either found the word “Billiken” in a dictionary, or Harper had a carving of one on his desk.
The Bud Billiken has a new outlook, and that is to strive to unite, empower, improve the quality of life, and enrich families and individuals in our communities.
In honor of Mr. Abbott, the parade’s commitment to the community is to provide opportunities related to education, health, wellness, business training and entrepreneurial development with the help of dedicated, genuine people who want to make the African-American society in Chicago better. Here’s to evolvement in 2019!