The Baha’is of Chicago were well represented at the 79th annual Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic on Aug. 9, conducting wholesome, fun children’s activities at the picnic part of the event.
Since 1996, Chicago Baha’is have participated in the Bud Billiken Parade, which is known as the largest African-American parade, and the second largest parade overall, in the United States. Close to 50 Baha’is volunteered at this year’s activities.
Drawing more than one million spectators each year, the parade was founded by Robert S. Abbott, founder of the Chicago Defender, and David Kellum, an editor at the paper. The two became Baha’is after founding the parade. Their views and activities, however, were in line with the Faith’s principles in the years leading up to their officially joining the religion.
For example, Messrs. Abbot and Kellum were active in civil rights and improving relations between the races. Indeed, they founded the Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic as a celebration of "unity in diversity for the children of Chicago."
Who, exactly, is Bud Billiken? He’s a fictional character invented by Mr. Abbott in 1923 to symbolize pride, happiness and hope in being African-American. (“Bud” was Mr. Abbott’s nickname; the billiken was a good-luck doll invented by Kansas art teacher Florence Pretz in 1908.)
The Defender staff created a Bud Billiken comic strip for young readers that extolled the virtues of being honest and trustworthy, obeying parents and respecting others. Through a pen-pal program, the Bud Billiken Club connected African-American with kids in Africa, South America, Europe and the Middle East.
The parade eventually took on a back-to-school theme, which is what the Baha’is, already a diverse group, emphasize in their Bud Billiken activities: the Cooperation Olympics (working together, no pushing), and face-painting and story-telling that focus on various virtues and racial diversity. Baha’i volunteers give each child who has participated in virtues-related activities a bag of school supplies that includes a copy of the award-winning Baha’i children’s magazine, Brilliant Star.
“The education of children is vital in the Baha’i Faith,” says Larry Kramer, a Chicago Baha’i and long-time volunteer at the parade and picnic. As Abdu’l-Baha said, ‘The education and training of children is among the most meritorious acts of humankind . . . for education is the indispensable foundation of all human excellence and alloweth man to work his way to the heights of abiding glory.’”
Chicago Baha’i Richard Player says he always looks forward to volunteering at the parade, possibly as much as the children who return each year and head for the Baha’i booth at the picnic. “We have a presence there,” he says with pride.
“We’re not merely making a statement,” says Lucki Wilder, a Chicago Baha’i who has volunteered at the parade since 1996. “We’re offering a service. Our activities at the picnic are a loving, day-long, microcosmic children’s class. What a joy!”
In the last few years, presumptive presidential candidate Barack Obama has been the grand marshal of the Bud Billiken Day Parade. Other celebrities who have graced the parade’s route include Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Duke Ellington, Spike Lee, Oprah Winfrey, Hopalong Cassidy, Lena Horne, L.L. Cool J, Bozo the Clown, Frank Thomas, Michael Jordan and President Harry S. Truman.