The sun was smiling, the temperature and humidity were gentle and the Young Marines of Baltimore, in freshly pressed fatigues, were about to lead off the annual AFRAM EXPO parade for the second straight year.
"It's a very prestigious honor," said Jerome Milburn, commanding officer of the 41-member youth organization that is sponsored by the Montfort Point Marine Corps Association, a Marine veterans group.
Yesterday's parade, which attracted an estimated 2,000 participants, was part of a three-day ethnic festival that has celebrated annually for 16 years the heritage of African-Americans and their contributions to American society.
Parade marchers led the way down Cathedral Street to Festival Hall on Pratt Street, where vendors' stalls and exhibits featured the colors and patterns of Africa in clothing and pictorial cloths, histories of outstanding African-Americans in displays and a variety of foods from shish kebabs to fried dough.
Mr. Milburn said his unit's color guard and drill team regularly enters national competitions, but the Young Marines also get their uniforms dirty on military-style encampments. The unit includes boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 17, and Mr. Milburn says there's no discrimination. "When we say go up the hill, everybody goes up the hill."
Meanwhile, at the tag end of the parade, 16-month-old April Thompson of Baltimore stood ready to march with the pompon girls of New Edition marching unit.
At 16 months? "She follows her big sister," said her mother. Johnny and Tanya Thompson took the baby along to practice sessions with L'oreal, 4, and their younger daughter began shaking pompons in imitation of the older girls.
When the parade began, April took her mother's hand and
toddled along behind the others, dressed in a miniature blue and white uniform and feathered cap like her big sister's. The 1 1/2 -mile parade route turned out to be a little long for April, who rode part of the way in her father's arms.
Among the spectators, Isaac Hill, 8, of Fort Meade, was $l attending his first AFRAM parade, but he knew what it was about. "It's about black people," he said, and yes, he agreed, also about black pride.
On stage at the festival, entertainment ranged from rhythm and blues to gospel to hip-hop.
On the more serious side, festival visitors could get cholesterol tests or explore the possibility of adopting black children with special needs. The Black Adoption Recruitment Network, which
operates under the city Department of Social Services, finds an average of six or seven adoptive parents each year at the festival, said Pauline Brogden, recruitment coordinator.
The three-day festival, expected to draw about 20,000 visitors a day, has the African-American woman as its theme this year.
Fifteen women, chosen for their accomplishments in fields ranging from arts to law, were honored at a reception earlier. Biographies listing their accomplishments were displayed at the festival.
The celebration continues from noon to 10 p.m. today.