For many people within Black Chicago, the 94th Annual Bud Billiken Parade represented a day of pride, joy, togetherness, positivity and tradition where the community could gather as one to celebrate Black joy and excellence in all its forms.
Hundreds of people lined up along Dr. Martin Luther King Drive to cheer on youth and elders alike as they strutted down the parade path to Washington Park for a back-to-school festival to kick off the 2023-2024 school year.
Chicago native and resident Kevin Russell, joined by his wife, Kathryn, set up their folding chairs near the northeast corner of 35th & Dr. Martin Luther King Drive to watch the parade go by and cheer on their grandson, who was in the parade with Kenwood Academy’s marching band. Russell said he’d watched the parade for 30 years and often attended it in person.
“When I first came here, I was a young person. Now, the years have rolled on by, and my children were here with me and now my grandchildren, so it’s a blessing,” said Russell. “It’s always been well-managed and well-staged. I think it’s important to show the strength of what can be done if everything goes right and everyone gets behind it.”
This year, more than 50 groups walked in the parade, including elected officials, corporations, youth-focused community organizations, local dance companies, non-profit organizations, etc.
Srren Sargent, 13, a cheerleader for Kaos Bulldogs, a Chicago-based youth football and cheerleading group, said she was excited to walk in the Bud Billiken Parade for the first time.
“Just being able to get the organization out and represent is very fun because we’re family here. So, it’s like I get to walk with all my friends, best friends and sisters. It’s beautiful,” said Sargent. “I love watching [the parade], and it’s like, almost like a dream to be in it because I’m not only representing Kaos, but I’m representing Chicago. I’m representing myself. It’s very exciting.”
Margaret Montgomery, Srren’s mother, said the Kaos Bulldogs have participated in the parade for the past two years and were excited to do so again. She said preparation for the parade begins at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. to ensure everyone arrives on time, secures parking, finds their designated spot in the parade, etc., with the day concluding around 3:30 p.m. or 4 p.m. Helping fellow parents enjoy their experience is something she looks forward to as well.
“Some of the parents are first-time parade walkers, and that’s a great experience for them, too, so now they can share that experience with their kids. It’s an all-around great time,” said Montgomery, whose son also walked in the parade.
The Bud Billiken Parade is produced each year by The Chicago Defender Charities. Chicago Defender Charities president/chief executive officer and Bud Billiken parade chair Myiti Sengstacke-Rice, whose grandfather, John Sengstacke, was the publisher of The Chicago Defender, explained why she believes the parade is one of the most significant events in Black Chicago today.
“While we are still continuing to adapt and recover from the various changes to our communities, the parade always is an exciting time where the city can celebrate together and look forward to the great things ahead in the upcoming year,” said Sengstacke-Rice.