Officials say Bud Billiken Parade to return this summer

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Bud Billiken Parade
MARCHING BANDS MARCH down King Drive during the iconic Bud Billiken

Crusader Staff Report

The annual Bud Billiken Parade, cancelled in 2020 for the first time in 91 years, will return this summer as organizers of other Black festivals decide whether to follow suit as the city heads toward fully reopening by July 4.

The parade along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive is traditionally held on the first Saturday in August.

Another summer tradition, the 60th Annual Englewood Back 2 School Parade, plans to hold its event August 21 with several sponsors. Administrators officially made the announcement on the event’s website.

Meanwhile, the 24-year-old Chicago Football Classic (CFC), which is held annually at Soldier Field in September, is canceled again this year because of the pandemic. In an email, Janet Berry, director of operations, said, “Due to the nature of our event, we will not have a football game again this year. However, we are preparing for our 25th year in 2022 which will be awesome!” Berry said the “CFC will also have an HBCU Week and College Fair as we have always done in the past.”

Bud Billiken organizers haven’t officially announced the return of the nation’s largest Black parade, but Antawn Anderson, executive administrator of the Robert Sengstacke Abbott Foundation, said in an email, “We will definitely be hosting the Bud Billiken Parade this year.”

Neither Anderson nor the foundation have yet disclosed details and coronavirus precautions that will be taken during the parade, but as COVID cases dramatically decline, Parade and Foundation heads are optimistic as city leaders allow the return of other big summer events.

Anderson said applications for volunteers and parade participants are not yet available on the website.

With over two months to go before marchers step onto the parade route, Bud Billiken organizers spoke about restoring a storied back-to-school tradition that has drawn a half million visitors to Bronzeville every year since 1929.

But like other Black organizers, they remain cautious.

For the first time in its history, the Bud Billiken Parade was canceled last year because of the pandemic. ABC7 Chicago, which normally broadcasts the parade live, showed past parades instead.

It’s uncertain what precautions or limits Bud Billiken organizers will take to keep spectators healthy during the event. It helps that the parade is an outside event that’s spread over 15 city blocks.

The annual Chicago Auto Show, which is popular among Blacks, will be held for just four days this year, starting July 15 at McCormick Place, but will be limited to 10,000 spectators, whose attendance will be regulated by timed attendance.

As Black neighborhoods continue experiencing the lowest vaccination rates in the city, bringing back events that historically have drawn tens of thousands of visitors pose a health risk during the coronavirus pandemic. The uncertainty of the future health conditions in those neighborhoods is making it a challenge for organizers to plan or prepare for a festival in a short period of time.

But the latest health data show vaccination rates slowly increasing in Black neighborhoods. Vaccination rates in the 10 zip codes in the city’s Black neighborhoods are now in the thirty-percentile range. In Bronzeville, zip code 60616 has the highest vaccination rates among Black neighborhoods with 47.8 percent as of May 9. Another zip code in Bronzeville, 60653, has a vaccination rate of 36.4 percent.

The vaccination rates may climb even higher by July and August, when the Bud Billiken Parade and most of the Black large-scale events will take place. Bud Billiken Parade organizers are forging ahead, others are cancelling for the second year in the row while still others are waiting to see what happens.

The annual Black Women’s Expo, traditionally held the first weekend in April, will take place August 20 to August 22 at McCormick Place. Promoted as the largest multi-city event in the country for Black women, the Chicago stop draws around 25,000 visitors every year.

Organizers for the annual African Festival of the Arts in Washington Park haven’t announced whether it will hold its three-day event Labor Day weekend. However, the event’s website encourages visitors to check back from time to time for an announcement. For nearly 30 years, the festival has drawn at least 55,000 visitors to Washington Park, where they buy ethnic art, pottery and apparel.

The Taste of WVON, last held in 2019 on the campus of Chicago State University, may not happen for the second consecutive year. WVON officials say the event takes a year to plan with sponsors and advertisers and it’s too late to start for the annual one-day event in July, which for nine years drew nearly 50,000 visitors with big-name recording artists and vendors.

Organizers of the South Shore Summerfest in the South Shore Cultural Center haven’t announced whether they will hold the annual event in August. The website still has information from the 2019 event, where 15,000 came to see singer Robin Thicke as its main headliner.

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