By Naomi Nix
6:50 PM EDT, August 10, 2013
With the city's first day of school still a couple weeks away, the 84th annual Bud Billiken Parade rung in the new school year Saturday with the traditional stream of politicians, marching bands, tumblers, dancers and the occasional cartoon character.
Thousands of people stood shoulder-to-shoulder along King Drive in idyllic 70s temperatures, watching young kids atop floats wave to the crowd and teen cheerleaders dance to the beat of a marching band.
"It gives us an opportunity to celebrate our youth," said Karen Stark, who came to the parade for the first time in several years. And "it gives them a chance to strut their stuff."
For many like Stark, the parade was an opportunity to cast the city, particularly the African-American community, in a positive light. "Chicago is not just the murder capital of the nation," she said.
Karen Richmond, 57, brought one of her granddaughters from Indianapolis to celebrate the school year and show them what Chicago has to offer. "There is a lot of crime here, but what I've noticed is a lot of positivity," said Richmond. "(The parade) shows we as a people can come together."
The tradition started in 1929 when Chicago Defender founder Robert S. Abbott arranged an outing at a South Side park for youth who sold his newspaper. The name, Bud Billiken, was inspired by a Chinese figurine that Abbott kept on his desk.
It grew into a cherished tradition in the city's African-American community, drawing politicians, local celebrities and thousands of onlookers. The event has now become an excuse for annual family get-together and reunions for regulars who come for both the parade and picnics afterward.
This year, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Gov. Pat Quinn worked the crowd. Meanwhile, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez and Jesse Jackson Sr., waved to paradegoers from atop sport utility vehicles wending along the route from Oakwood Boulevard to Washington Park at 51st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue.
Mark Billingslea, 44, held his 2-year-old son on top of a metal railing so he could see the festivities, including a dancing white polar bear and dressed-up Mickey and Minney Mouse characters. "That's the Coca-Cola bear," Billingslea pointed out to his son.
For some parents and grandparents, the parade was an opportunity to cherish the educational milestones of their own children.
Nina James, 49, said she is excited that her 16-year-old daughter will be starting her junior year at Kenwood Academy.
"She's getting ready," James said.
"I'll have to be," her daughter Ebony Ellis quipped.
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