Thousands choked the streets of Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood on Saturday as the 90th annual Bud Billiken Parade kicked off the 2019 school year. Serving as Grand Marshal was Mayor Lori Lightfoot and film and television star Lil Rel Howery.
“The Bud Billiken Parade is not just one of Chicago’s iconic summer traditions, it’s among our nation’s greatest celebrations of African-American heritage and culture,” Mayor Lightfoot said in a statement. “For nine decades, it has created empowerment and pride through education funding and support, heralding in each new school year by connecting communities and showcasing the talent, energy, and enthusiasm of our young people.”
Among those attending included a host of special guests and Honorary Parade Marshals including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, and Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza.
The Chicago Defender caught up with Mendoza as she sat in the back of a convertible waiting for her turn to join the throngs of parade floats and participants.
“I love this parade,” Mendoza told the Defender.“I’m out here pretty much every year as far back as I can remember. I love what it stands for. We get to enjoy this beautiful part of the city and it brings out families. Most importantly, it stands for education and educating our youth.”
Standing to the side watching the parade marshals wait in their convertibles was Danielle Banks, a copywriter for the 90th Bud Billiken Parade. To her, this was the culmination of months of work and planning.
“I’m here to see the community come out together to send our kids back to school with a lot of positive energy and big Chicago cultural history vibes,” Banks told us.“The Defender has a long legacy of innovation in education. That’s the heart of our mission. So, we want to keep the energy going and send our kids back to school with that focus and potential being acknowledged.”
Children and their parents came out in full force to celebrate the event, with many involved in the parade itself. Among them were Cherelle Bimam and her children who were out to support the Chicago early learners — a universal preschool initiative started by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“We have different people from different cultures and everything just coming together,” Bimam said. “We’re celebrating one big cause and just making sure that we bring these children back to school on a positive note.”
The Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic is the largest African American parade in the United States. This year it stretched all along Martin Luther King Drive between 39th and 51st streets.
Robert S. Abbott, founder and publisher of the Chicago Defender,along with David Kellum, cofounder of the Bud Billiken Club,began the parade in 1929 to celebrate the African American community in Chicago. It has since evolved into an annual back-to-school celebration emphasizing the children of the community and their education.
“We need to do a better job in making sure that everyone understands how awesome this parade is,” Mendoza added. “We want every little kid who’s watching this parade who sees, either elected officials or media personalities, that they can be as good or better than any one of us in the future.”