In praise of Bud Billiken, banished in 2020 by COVID-19

The Bud Billiken Parade is the South Side’s annual back-to-school celebration, canceled at a time when our girls and boys need it the most.

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Geeksquad members dance during the 90th Bud Billiken Parade in Bronzeville on August 10, 2019.

Geeksquad members dance during the 90th Bud Billiken Parade in Bronzeville on August 10, 2019.

Pat Nabong/For The Sun-Times

Saturday was Bud Billiken Day.This year, “The Bud” was banished.

Since 1929, the annual Bud Billiken Parade has been the apex of Chicago’s sunny, sultry summers, an iconic South Side celebration of Black children as they head back to school.

This year, the largest African American parade in the United States was canceled, for the first time in 91 years, called off by the merciless restrictions of COVID-19.

In 1929, Robert S. Abbott, founder and publisher of the legendary Chicago Defender newspaper, launched the parade to celebrate childhood and the joys of summer.It was sponsored by the Chicago Defender Charities.

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According to the parade’s website, in the 1900s, a Billiken “was a charm doll embodiment of good luck and fortune and was also regarded as the guardian of children.”

So the cheerful, smiling “Bud” became a guardian of Chicago’s Black children, amascot who marches them back to school after their summer of fun.

My childhood memories are steeped in the parade.Mama would take me by the hand to revel in the raucous, freewheeling festivities.

It wasmyparade.We would watch my mother’s younger sister, the lovely Aunt Jackie, sparkle in pink taffeta as she twirled a baton in sync with the high school band.

It wasourparade.Daddy’s buddy lived in an apartment that overlooked South Park, the long, wide boulevard later renamed for Martin Luther King.We visited and scrambled to the windows to watch the parade wind through Bronzeville and on to Washington Park, where the smell of picnic barbeque and soul music wafted in the air.

There were marching bands, dancers, singers, celebrities, massive floats, all swirling in a hurricane of color, song, love and light.

There were floating Jesse White Tumblers, sashaying teen dancers in colorful regalia and celebrity appearances from the likes of Nat King Cole to Michael Jordan to Aretha Franklin to Barack Obama.

The parade is a proud statement of our blackness.

On Saturday, the parade was commemorated with a one-hour, televised special on ABC7, paying tribute via videos and interviews.

Still, we lost our “protector of children.”

Bud Billiken is not there when our girls and boys need him most.Black families on Chicago’s South and West sides have been swamped by the perils of the pandemic, their children imprisoned by its fears.

This summer, there was no time to play. No time for basketball hoops, beach outings, chasing butterflies, grabbing a popsicle at the corner store.

The magical Billiken cannot guard Black children from the dark clouds of illness and death among parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors. “The Bud” cannot shield them from disappearing jobs and lost hope.

Our babies are being gunned down in the streets. At least a half-dozen children have been shot to death in Chicago since June, according to news reports.

Bud is not there to stop the warring street gangs who are shooting each other over raggedy street corners and petty insults.

As our children head back to school, there is no school, at least not the brick-and-mortar kind. A virtual classroom will not feel like a welcoming place, especially while the “grown-ups” at the Chicago Public Schools, City Hall and the Chicago Teachers Union bicker over the reopening. While the children and parents suffer the collateral damage.

The Bud will not be there to guard them.

Laura S. Washington is a columnist for the Sun-Times and a political analyst for ABC-7. Follow her on Twitter @mediadervish

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com

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