BRONZEVILLE — The second Saturday in August has always been the designated date for the annual Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic, and it is one of the happiest days of the year for Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd).
"I love attending the Bud Billiken Parade. I can't get enough of it and look forward to it every year," said Dowell, whose ward includes the parade route.
"This year, I will be riding my bike in the parade instead of walking or riding in a car. I want to be able to talk to people and show them importance of bike riding and how healthy it is for everyone," the alderman said.
But even if Dowell was not going to participate in the parade she would have a front row seat considering the parade goes past her home in the 4300 block of South King Drive.
"It does not get any better than this [living along the parade route]. I don’t know any other parade in the country like Bud Billiken. It is a Chicago classic event," she added.
The parade begins at 10 a.m. and runs down King Drive from 35th Street to 51st Street at Washington Park, where a family-style picnic breaks out afterward and often lasts until the park closes at 11 p.m. This year’s parade grand marshal is Yohannes Abraham, a special assistant to President Barack Obama.
Now in its 84th year, the unofficial back-to-school parade organized by Chicago Defender Charities has grown into one of the largest annual parades in the country, with an estimated 1.2 million people attending and watching it on TV every year, said Eugene Scott, Defender Charities president and chairman.
Frances Garrison said she attended the parade for the first time in 2008 and had a good time.
“I watched it on TV for years with my kids but never attended because I had a fear about crowds and my kids getting lost,” said the 71-year-old South Shore resident. “Now that they are all grown up I can get out and experience the Bud Billiken Parade myself. Lord’s will, I hope to be there again this year.”
Father and son Fred and Geno Tate have made going to the parade a family tradition.
“I have been coming here my whole life and always find it exciting,” said Geno Tate, 18.
Fred Tate, 57, said he has attended the parade the last 20 years and couldn't imagine missing it.
“The Bud Billiken Parade is a part of Chicago, and as a Chicagoan you should attend. My son and I come here every year because we enjoy watching the floats and bands,” he said. “Seeing the excitement on the kids' faces makes it even more exciting to attend.”
Chicago Defender Charities was founded in 1945 as the charity arm of the Chicago Defender newspaper. Scott said the nonprofit organization aims to improve the quality of life for blacks through educational, cultural and social programs. Since 2003, the charity has raised $1.2 million for its scholarship program benefiting needy college students.
Chicago Defender founder, the late Robert Sengstacke Abbott, started the parade in 1929.