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Bud Billiken Parade set to celebrate ‘90 years of excellence’

Lil Rel Howery from “Get Out” and “Bird Box” will be the grand marshal for this year’s parade.

The Chi-Town Cheerleaders march in the Bud Billiken Parade on Saturday. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times
The Chi-Town Cheerleaders march in the Bud Billiken Parade in 2016.
Lou Foglia / Sun-Times

South Side natives Anton and Anthony Downing spend their spare time renovating homes on the same block they grew up on and other Chicago houses, too.

This weekend, the twins will share another milestone: serving as honorary marshals at the Bud Billiken Parade.

The Downing brothers said they started going to the parade in elementary school, walked in it with their college fraternity and later on as firefighters.

Anthony Downing said the parade marks an exciting time for them.

“It’s been an amazing journey, to be observers as children and then as adults to serve as role models,” he said.

The Bud Billiken Parade returns Saturday to celebrate 90 years of “excellence” with its back-to-school festivities that showcase talents of Chicago’s youth.

The parade, known to be the largest African American parade in America and the second largest parade overall, will start down King Drive at Pershing Road then head to Washington Park.

The annual parade was founded in 1929 by Robert Sengstacke Abbott, the man who started the Chicago Defender newspaper and is known for being the “father of black journalism.”

Abbott’s great-grand-niece Myiti Sengstacke-Rice is the current president and CEO of Chicago Defender Charities, which organizes the parade. She said the parade gives children something to look forward to as summer break nears an end and school begins on Sept. 3 for Chicago Public Schools.

“We have always been the back-to-school parade,” Sengstacke-Rice said. “Everything we do is around the premise of supporting our community and the youth.”

Following the parade will be the traditional festival and fair at Washington Park, and this year’s theme is “It Takes A Village” because, as Sengstacke-Rice said, raising the next generation requires investment from the entire community.

“All of our major supporters — like the Obama Foundation and Urban League — come together to say we want to help prepare kids to go back to school,” she said.

The parade and fair kicks off at 10 a.m., and post-parade activities include entertainment, food, free haircuts for boys and free hair braiding for girls; sponsors of the parade will be handing out school supplies until 4 p.m.

For those who want to enjoy the parade from the comfort of their homes, ABC 7 Chicago will broadcast the event live.

This year, Lil Rel Howery, actor-comedian from “Get Out” and “Bird Box,” will serve as the grand marshal. Former grand marshals have included President Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Chance the Rapper, Muhammad Ali and James Brown.

Other honorary marshals in the parade include Mayor Lori Lightfoot; Don Jackson, chairman and CEO of Central City Productions Inc.; Monica Haslip, executive director of Little Black Pearl; Arthur Robertson, founder and executive director of South Shore Drill Team; songstress Terisa Griffin; Jesse White, Illinois Secretary of State; and entrepreneur and philanthropist Erika Bracey.