By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Crusader
For 35 years the popular South Shore Drill Team has been the centerpiece of the historic Bud Billiken Parade. The beloved organization and the Chicago Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression have been given the boot, the result of a major reduction of the iconic parade that has been a tradition for generations in the Black community.
The 87-year-old parade that runs along King Drive is the second largest parade in the country. It is also the largest African American parade in the nation. Last year, some 250,000 residents lined the street to watch 220 units march or cruise down the street during a colorful four-hour spectacle. Millions more watch the spectacle on television.
Now, because of pressure from police officials, the parade will now be only two hours and have 175 units and floats.
Louis Thomas, a 59-year-old South Side supporter of the parade, called on Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. to resolve this dispute. “I feel outraged, angry because this parade is designed to help and encourage our children and what they are doing is the opposite. This parade is for the children so why lock them out?”
A spokesperson for the South Shore Drill Team said Bud Billiken Parade officials “wanted us to cut back to 85 team members. Last year, we had 169. We are not going to pick and choose our students; so, we are holding an open house this Saturday, the same day as the parade from 10 a.m. to 12 noon at the Gary Comer Center, 7200 South Ingleside.”
When asked, “Why were they being asked to reduce the team?” The spokesperson said, “They never gave us an answer.”
This is the first year that the Defender Charities, which runs the parade headed by Marc Sengstacke, Ph.D., and Marcus T. Alexander, Ed.D., is hosting its first parade without the leadership of Colonel Eugene Scott, who retired earlier this year.
When contacted, Sengstacke denied allegations that his board is “anti-children” when demanding that the South Shore Drill Team reduce its entry to 85 youth. “We did not lock them out, the South Shore Drill Team. They chose not to participate.
“We made changes across the board for all units to follow. All units are following these rules, and they decided they did not want to follow the rules and decided they are not going to participate in the parade,” Sengstacke said.
Reminded that his board tried to force them to choose 85 students out of 169, he said, “That is not our problem. That is something they have to address….
“We feel that those who provide a lot of support for the parade…they want to cut back on their expenses and we do have to show a certain amount of respect for that.
“Perhaps the community needs to be more aware which is the boss of the mayor and the elected officials,” Sengstacke said. “They can say to the city ‘Look. Don’t do this. Release the restrictions on the Bud Billiken Parade.
“When those who provide a lot of money and support for the parade” ask for reductions, they must comply. Reliable sources said, “The only ones putting pressure on this board was the police department. No one else.”
However, when reminded that the police tried the same thing with Col. Scott who refused to change the parade, Sengstacke said, “Someone needs to tell the city to free up more of its resources for this parade. That is what the community needs to do.”
When told that the community would have done that if it had known, Sengstacke said, “Moving forward now that the community is finding out then that is an option we can look into.” Alexander, in a letter, said those groups that drew plenty of unruly responses from the crowd posed a “security risk” and were banned.
But for the South Shore Drill Team and the Chicago Alliance Racist & Political Repression, which is calling for the need for an all elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC), wanting input from the community is too late.
The Chicago Alliance Racist & Political Repression will be in Washington Park this Saturday despite being banned by parade organizers. “After years of peaceful participation in the parade, we have been excluded from this year’s event,” organizers said in a press release.
“This is a politically motivated attack on the entire Black Lives Matter movement, but the movement for community control of the police will not be silenced. We will be standing tall in Washington Park….”
Sources said the veteran community is also upset because “they will only be given one vehicle where as in the past they had from 6 to 8 cars, but they let the police put in 18 vehicles. The police department is concerned about the gangs which is why they demanded that the parade be cut by two hours. They don’t think the gangs come out until after 12 noon.”