The Bud Billiken Parade returns to Chicago’s South Side

By Zachary Clingenpeel, Co-Director of Photography

Despite a scaled down parade experience, the Bud Billiken Parade, a long-celebrated Chicago tradition, saw a massive turnout last weekend for its 92nd annual event.

The parade, held this year on Saturday, Aug. 14, is the largest African American parade in the United States. The theme for this year’s parade was “Back to School, Back to Life and Back to Bud Billiken.”

In 2020, the parade was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions. This year, coordinators made several changes to the parade, its route and the layout due to the ongoing threat of COVID-19 and the highly contagious Delta variant. Attendees entering the Bud Billiken Festival were required to either be fully vaccinated or present a negative COVID-19 test result from the previous 72 hours to attend while agreeing to be vaccinated that day. Mask-wearing was also required at the festival regardless of vaccination status, according to the Bud Billiken Parade and Festival safety plan, but the mask requirement did not appear to be strictly enforced.

The parade route this year was 10 blocks, starting at the corner of 45th Street and South King Drive and ending at the corner of 55th Street and South King Drive. Members of the parade court and the parade guest list watched performers enter Washington Park at the corner of South Ellsworth Drive and East 51st Street.

The parade’s grand marshal was the two-time WNBA MVP Candace Parker of the Chicago Sky. The parade included performances from 25 local dance teams, 20 local marching bands, eight drill teams and six cheerleading squads. Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU Local 73 also marched in the parade.

Several local, state and national politicians including Mayor Lori Lightfoot; Governor J.B. Pritzker; U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Chicago; and Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd Ward) all marched in the parade.

The parade, which is traditionally celebrated as a back to school event, is also home to a massive Chicago school supplies drive. The Chicago Defender Charities, which coordinated the parade, also hosted a COVID-19 relief fund this year.