Editor’s Note: As summer rapidly fades into fall, we commissioned Senior Correspondent Jacqueline Thompson to write about one of Chicago’s favorite summer events, the Bud Billiken Parade. Read below and plan to attend the parade next year.

The Big Bold Bad Bud Billiken Parade did it again. Eighty two years young, it is still exciting and still evolving each second Saturday in August in Chicago. For all these many years, the parade has proven to be THE event of the summer. All other shows and programs are planned around this day. The whole city – South Side, West Side and North Side – contributes school marching bands, dazzling floats and municipal partners such as the Fire Department and the Chicago Police Department. This year, of all things, a group of firemen did an expert line dance. They were very well received and applauded.

South Shore Drill Team Steppers at the Bud Biliken Parade in August 2009. RJ archived photo by Mary C. Piemonte

Without a doubt, the children steppers, marchers, twirlers, dancers and float riders always please. Yet this year, there were younger and younger majorettes and twirlers, stepping and stealing the show. There was more evidence of adult involvement in training youngsters to become skilled musicians, marchers and steppers. There were more children in certain group parade favorites: For instance, the South Shore Drill Team had a great many additional prancers.

The particular adult sections and new child-oriented groups, such as the Boy Scouts of America and Roller Rink Skaters, openly invited the parental spectators to look to more positive social involvement for their own children. These are activities that will help build strong self-esteem and awareness for all growing children. Another important group of adults that grew more visible in this parade is the Prince Hall Free Masonry Lodge’s float. Usually they just walk slowly, without emotion, and not many young adults – let alone children – know what they truly represent in the African American community. I hereby suggest that all who read this do themselves a favor and do an Internet search for the Prince Hall Masons to uncover a vital part of history under the theme, “Making Good Men Better.” Find out the how, why, who and what they stand for today.

Young bicyclists during the Bud Biliken Parade in August 2009. RJ archived photo by Mary C. Piemonte

I can also applaud the powers that be for acquiring a section of crowd control barriers that worked better for the crowd on both sides of the parade route. These barriers are strong, stable and lend themselves to very young children’s nimble climbs to the top to get a better view of the festivities. The barriers’ strength lies in the vertical section separations and wide-spaced horizontal sections. No shaking, no moving, no fear of falling off. Good looking out, Park District.

Our new mayor, Rahm Emanuel, was on the scene, making his way through the crowd talking to the children, parents and grandparents. The mayor also spent some time hanging out with the Billiken Parade’s King and Queen and the full Royal Court on the reviewing stand. I’m sure the topic of the conversation was the parade’s all-important “Back to School” theme, “Education, Now More than Ever.” This heavy hitting statement attracted a stellar list of politicians, business owners, movie stars, hospitals, colleges, superstores, banks, restaurants and car dealers. Even Mickey and Minnie Mouse from Disney joined in the fun, along with radio stations, TV channels, theaters, secondary schools, community outreach programs, newspapers and drug stores.

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