The 88th annual Bud Billiken Parade – August 12, 2017

Covering the Bud Billiken Parade is a respite from the graceless world that seems omnipresent. That world with its constant barrage of angry imagery and words; it hems me in.

I ride my bike to 50th and King and lock it to a street sign. A couple of people look at me with raised eyebrows and I say, “It will be fine.” Maybe they weren’t thinking about my bike. I slip through the police barricade showing my press credentials and walk north up King Drive. People watch me as I walk. I pass policemen and policewomen stationed every half block or so, four at each intersection. They hardly glance at me. People lean against the barricade, eyes and smiles and laughter. A few people wave. I think about my feet; my plantar fasciitis will act up. My awareness of the fact that I am white in a black world fades a bit. “Hey photo-man, take a picture,” says someone in the crowd. I take a few, adjusting my camera; it’s a mixed day of clouds and sunshine.

The King College Prep Marching Jaguars lead the way, black and gold, drums and trumpets and sax and tuba in unison; the J-Settes dance. It’s not too hot, but I imagine being in one of those uniforms. I need some water. A space opens up in the parade. The Jaguars move south, to the north I see TV cameras and photographers circling, a line of policemen and security guards.

Chance the Rapper is wearing a hat with the number 3 emblazoned. The brim is low, his eyes almost hidden in shadow. I change lenses and start taking pictures. I just need one decent image and then I can move on to the real show. A security man comes up and asks for my credentials and then asks me to step a few feet away. I check my images, too much shadow on his eyes. Deal with it I think. A policeman comes up and threatens to remove me from the parade route. “I told you not to photograph from in front,” he says. I don’t remember him speaking to me and I am fifty feet away. He has an anger in his eyes that is palpable. I think, too bad we don’t protect our city’s children with the same kind of passion.

I move to the edge of the parade. I want to photograph people reacting to Chance. People wave and smile. Some yell, “Chance, over here.” He gives concert passes to an aide who walks to the crowd and hands them out. And then I see the image. A group of girls-becoming-women leans forward, transfixed, in another world, watching Chance. One girl breaks into tears. I am reminded of imagery from the 60s when I was a boy-becoming-a-man when the Beatles toured the United States.

The parade unfolds with its usual rhythm. Marching bands and dance troupes punctuated by politicians and promotional floats. This year the gubernatorial candidates are thick, but Governor Rauner is nowhere to be seen. The South Shore Drill Team is back, a year after withdrawing from the parade due to limits on the number of people who could participate under a single banner. Dancers march by wearing “Alice in Wonderland” themed costumes. Mayor Emanuel works the crowd. The Jesse White Tumblers stop and soar. This is a joyful crowd, full of happiness and hope.

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