The annual Bud Billiken Parade today signaled the coming end of summer with a new mayor and the same spirit that has brought music, food and old-fashioned politicking to Bronzeville for 82 years.
The parade, meant to get kids ready for school, was Rahm Emanuel’s first as mayor, and he went at it with the zeal of a newcomer.
Emanuel jogged for much of the route along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, swigging water as he zig-zagged among flag twirlers and band members to shake hands with crowds calling his name from the edges of the street.
The new mayor has spent plenty of time during his first few months in office stressing the importance of a good education, and he took up the cause with impressionable parade goers.
“He asked me if I’m acing school, what school I go to and stuff like that,” 10-year-old Johnny Evans said after Emanuel slowed his frenetic progress to share some whispered words with the boy. “He told me to make sure I pass these grades, get to high school, college and pass.”
The crowd was overwhelmingly enthusiastic toward Emanuel. Some attendees used their face time with the mayor to push policy goals.
“Don’t raise the taxes,” one man called out. A woman grabbed Emanuel’s hand and told him: “We want you to help us out. Do what you’ve got to do.”
Along with the politicking and the “get ready for classes” message, the Bud Billiken Parade is about an end-of-summer party.
One of a few large Chicago parades that take place in a neighborhood rather than downtown, Bud Billiken traditionally sees families and friends drag barbecue grills onto the wide parkways that flank the route and make food throughout the day. Saturday was no exception.
Kaleta Cooper reflected amid the barbeque smoke on how little the event has changed over the roughly 50 years she’s been attending.
“It’s a chance for everybody to get together, no drama, enjoy some good food and listen to some good music,” Cooper said. “I wouldn’t miss it.”
Chicago R&B singer R. Kelly cruised the route on a float advertising his most recent album, “Love Letter.” The singer, who was acquitted of child pornography charges in 2008, smiled and waved to the crowd as people shouted his name.
Since it first took to South Side streets on Aug. 11, 1929, the Bud Billiken Parade has celebrated children and education by marking the impending end of summer and start of the new school year. Organizers tout it as the largest African-American parade in the nation.
Chicago Defender founder Robert Abbott and editor Lucius Harper conceived the parade and “Bud Billiken,” a fictional character from Chinese folklore who was a guardian of youth.