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Bud Billiken Parade brings out thousands to mark the coming school year

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Updated: September 12, 2013 6:52AM

Khinde Hampton went from all smiles to his best game face Saturday as he stepped out to lead the King College Prep band in front of thousands of spectators who lined King Drive for the 84th annual Bud Billiken Parade.

“This is one of the biggest parades in the country,” the 16-year-old drum major said. “And it helps us know it’s time to get ready to head back to school.”

Besides being the oldest and largest African-American parade in Chicago, the parade serves as a reminder to kids that it’s almost time to head back to school. Chicago school officials handed out thousands of blue T-shirts to parade-goers and participants that read, “The First Day of School is August 26.”

Bronzeville native Cassandra Walker watched the parade from a vantage near 41st and King with her children and grandchildren and dozens of family members.

“I come every year,” said Walker, 42. “It’s a family thing, and I enjoy the fact that they do this. It motivates the kids. It’s something to look forward to. The high school bands — oh, my God. These kids are so good.”

Walker sat in the front row on a lawn seat with a giant umbrella and a cookout going on behind her.

“I think I’m looking at about 60 family members, all from Chicago,” she said. “We kind of use this as a family reunion day, to get together. It’s sort of a tradition in my family.”

Cheers arose every time a band passed.

There was a large presence of city school employees and parents marching alongside a float. The Chicago Sun-Times reported Saturday that school central office employees received a memo from Robert Boik, the system’s chief of staff, on Friday telling them: “All salaried exempt employees should plan to attend the parade and walk with the CPS float. If you are unable to do so, you must inform your cabinet-level officer,” Boik said.

Some school employees said they saw the memo as an order. A schools spokeswoman said the email was “misinterpreted” and attendance was not required.

Among the politicians on hand, Gov. Pat Quinn and William Daley, who’s challenging Quinn in the Democratic primary, walked the parade route with supporters.

But Monique Baker, a mother of five, was more excited to have her kids see the parade for the first time. She grew up in Bronzeville and spent years moving around the country before moving back to the city.

“This is a Chicago thing,” she said. “And this is their first time. So I’m so happy.”


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