Bud Billiken 2021: Chicago back-to-school parade back after pandemic hiatus

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Bud Billiken is finally back!

"The fact that we have a parade is exciting, that it's still going to happen," said Myiti Sengstacke-Rice, president and CEO of Chicago Defender Charities.

After being canceled in 2020 for the first time since its founding in 1929 because of the pandemic, the 92nd year of the event will return Saturday to Chicago's South Side with a theme of back to school, back to life and back to Bud Billiken.

It's the first time Bran Arla Johnson, and more than 20 families and staff of the Big Brothers and Big Sisters group are marching in the iconic parade.

"We feel like kids need mentoring more than ever now and this is an opportunity for us to get the word out," Johnson said.

This year's Grand Marshall is Chicago Sky basketball player Candace Parker, who is also a two-time WNBA MVP.

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The Chicago Defender Charities, which produces the event, said it will be a modified version with an abbreviated route -- which will start at 45th Street and King Drive. Rapid COVID testing will also be available nearby.

The parade route stretches down to 55th Street into Washington Park, where a family festival called "It Takes A Village" will not only feature food, activities and entertainment for all ages, as well as back to school giveaways, but also free COVID vaccinations.

"We have a responsibility to bring information and resources to our community, especially when there's a lot of misinformation out there in terms of the COVID vaccine," Sengstacke-Rice said.

Organizers encourage attendees to wear masks along the parade route. However, people attending the festival must show vaccination card or proof of a negative COVID test in the last 72 hour, as well as wear masks regardless vaccination status.

The parade has roughly 125 entrants including fan favorite, South Shore Drill Team.

The team's special events manager and team alum Stella Natufe said the parade is the one event they put on their calendar in permanent marker.

"The Bud Billiken Day Parade is that one event we put on the calendar in permanent marker 'cause we know we are going to participate," she said. "We try to do our best ever time we hit the street, not just for Bud Billiken. We just put a little bit more sugar when it comes to Bud Billiken."

ABC7 is planning to air a special of highlights from the 2021 Bud Billiken event the following weekend on August 21.

Organizers said despite the changes, the parade and festival will offer the same type of entertainment, food and fun that's delighted multiple generations of families for years.

For more information, visit www.budbillikenparade.org.
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