Annual Bud Billiken Parade honors President Obama

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Chicago’s royal family: The 2012 Bud Billiken King and Queen contest winners are King Dakota James and Queen Autumn Caldwell. Look for them — as well as those crowned Prince, Princess, Lord and Lady — in the parade this year. | SUPPLIED PHOTO

Bud Billiken Parade, A History

Robert Abbott, who founded the Chicago Defender newspaper, started the parade in 1929.

According to a Chicago Defender article about the parade's history, the name and idea stemmed from a brainstorming session between Abbot and his editor, Luscious Harper, on how to organize the black youth who sold the newspapers in town.

David Kellum started a resulting club and mascot, a Buddha-like cartoon kid called Bud Billiken. Kellum, together with Edgar Trowne, the then-president of the National Negro Council, and George Donahue, the superintendent of the South Park Board, decided to hold a Bud Billiken Day picnic.

The resulting event was a huge hit. It gave children a chance to be in the limelight, dress up in costumes and march in a parade. Since that first parade on Aug. 11, 1929, the event has ballooned into the popular televised event it is today.

The Chicago Defender and the Chicago Defender Charities (which started in 1945) operated the parade until 2001, when the Charities took primary control. (The organization's website stated the switchover was in 2008, but Col. Eugene Scott, Chicago Defender Charities president and chairman of the parade committee, confirmed the 2001 date.)

The parade's primary focus is success for the community's children, and a scholarship program was started in 2003.
Since then, 59 students have received a total $1.2 million in scholarships to local and national universities including Boston College, Chicago State, Northern Illinois University and the University of Chicago.

- by Kimberly Elsham

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Chicago's South Side will welcome the 83rd Annual Bud Billiken Parade on Saturday, Aug. 11.

The parade is an institution in Chicago's black community. Its organizer says it's the second-largest televised parade in the United States. As it's always held on the second Saturday in August, the parade is a good end-of-summer sendoff, as the community preps for back to school.

This year's theme is "Education: Built to Last; a Tribute to President Barack Obama," and while it's been reported that President Obama won't make it, parade organizers said at least someone from Capitol Hill will be in attendance.

"The only thing I've heard is he's designated a senior official from the White House to be his grand marshal surrogate," said Col. Eugene Scott, Chicago Defender Charities president and chairman of the parade committee.

Parade organizers leaked an announcement in late June that President Obama would appear in person in Chicago's Washington Park to grand marshal the event. The president has a long history with the parade, but he hasn't participated since 2007. Since taking up the helm at the White House, he hasn't shown.

A representative from the president's campaign stated June 27 that he would not be attending this year's parade due to his schedule, the Sun-Times reported, but his campaign had been sending email blasts about his Aug. 12 birthday party in Chicago. So while chances are better that he'll make it to the parade, it remains unconfirmed whether he will.

Regardless, this year's edition of "The Bud" is hopefully bringing more celebrity. Scott said the organizers have confirmed performing artist T.I., but they are waiting on confirmation for Kanye West, Beyoncé and Lupe Fiasco. The parade has turned up its celebrity offerings in recent years, which Scott said has in part boosted already impressive numbers. This year, he expects about 75,000 participants and close to 1 million attendees.

Outside of the celeb influence, the parade's heart and soul is focused on the community and its young people. Scott said this year's theme of "Built to Last" is borrowed from one of the White House's improvement initiatives.

"It's indicating that we are part of an institution, the education institution, also built to last," he said.

This year's parade groups will once again be a sampling of the South Side's community groups, including the iconic South Shore Drill Team, now boasting about 300 members.

Also on the list are marching bands and circus acts.

Scott said parade day is just a culmination of many hours of work and commitment.

"These organizations serve a function though the year of training and support to young people," he said.

"[The parade] is the reflection of the community," he added. "It's what the community looks like, and that's what I think has given it its long life."

The parade steps off from 39th Street (Oakwood Boulevard) and Martin Luther King Drive at 10 a.m. It runs until about 2 p.m. The after-parade activities will take place in Washington Park (at 55th Street and Ellsworth Drive) from the conclusion of the parade until dusk.

For more information, visit budbillikenparade.com.