Pasadena’s Black History Parade is the longest running Black history parade in the Southern California area.
Established in 1982 as a family-friendly festival with the purpose of bringing together and celebrating the Black community in the Pasadena area, this year marked the parade’s 41st year. The parade, with over 80 entries, began at Fair Oaks Ave and Mountain View St at 10am and ended at Robinson Park, where the festival took place from noon to 4 pm.
In my young 30’s myself, I concede that 41 years isn’t old – but it shows you’ve been around long enough to ‘know better’. And 41 years is 9 years away from the big 5-0 birthdate, which is the halfway point for a century.
“Celebrating our Excellence—The Legacy of Councilmember John J. Kennedy.”
It’s been amazing to be able to attend the parade since I was a child and see the support grow larger and larger every year. This year was especially meaningful as the theme paid homage to the legendary Pasadena City councilmember John Kennedy. His unexpected death at 61 this past July was cause of grief, not only from his family and friends, but also for the many residents of Pasadena who admired him by reputation. Born and raised in Pasadena and graduating from Blair High School, John Kennedy served the city from District 3 for nearly 10 years. An influential and respected councilmember, his reputation and legacy are one of caring and uplifting Pasadena and all of its residents, especially those he represented in the Northwest area of the city.
As the parade organizers took the step of honoring Mr. Kennedy this year with the theme for the parade, “Celebrating our Excellence—The Legacy of Councilmember John J. Kennedy”, multiple elected officials showed their respect for his legacy as well as the overall mission of the parade including Congressmembers Judy Chu and Adam Schiff, State Senator Anthony Portantino, Assembly member Chris Holden, Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, and Pasadena Mayor Victor M. Gordo. Pasadena City councilmembers such as Tyron Hampton and Pasadena Unified School District board members such as Patrice Marshall McKenzie also participated in the parade to show their support for the community.
While experiencing the Black History Parade this year I felt nostalgic, growing up in Pasadena like I did, remembering what it was like to attend when I was 8 or 9 years of age.
As I grew up going to the Black History Parade, we kids used to be excited to see who the Grand Marshall was gonna be because it was usually someone notable. One year it was Regan Gomez and Tyrone Burton from the popular Black sitcom Parenthood or another year it was Tia and Tamara Mowry from the popular show Sister Sister.
My mom used to make sure we dressed warm and in decent outfits when we would attend the parade. This year I decided to put a light fit on just like I used to when I was younger, before I understood the significance and importance of the parade. The difference this time was that I was also going to be participating in supporting a larger cause, which is celebrating Black Excellence.
It’s been 3 years since the Black Lives Matter protest took place over the racial injustices of George Floyd and police brutality. I believe it is more important now than ever to participate and support events that celebrate and uplift our community to remind everyone that will still need the same amount of support we had during that time period, if not even more today.
It was great to return to the parade and festival this year and I still got the feeling I was attending a huge ‘Dena family reunion.
We were blessed this year with the presence of retired NFL defensive back and sports analyst Jim Hill as our Grand Marshal. The John Muir High School and Pasadena High School (PHS) football teams represented the Youth Grand Marshals section for their accomplishments. John Muir won the CIF Championship and PHS won the Pacific League Championship in 2022. Darnay Holmes (former UCLA Bruin and current New York Giants defensive back) was one of the many celebrities and hometown heroes who participated in the parade alongside local musician & rap star Bullet, who led a caravan of red lowriders to represent his brand. If you want to keep up with Bullet, you can find his music HERE.
The Black History Parade has always been a way for our community to help promote and support local Black and brown businesses in Pasadena. It’s a huge benefit for small businesses that don’t have a large platform to gain exposure and to gain new customers and clients. This allows us to keep our dollars circulating amongst our community to help build each other up. Pasadena CLSCS was in attendance, supporting the cause with a booth right next to Chic-Fil-A, and they were there offering information on career opportunities for anyone from the city looking for employment. What I appreciated about Chic-Fil-A was they did not sell any food because they didn’t want to take away from the small businesses, so instead they had free food item coupons to hand out – shoutout to the Director of Hospitality Arnie Ragland and Branch Owner Adaobi Gwacham!
The Black history parade is not only exclusive to the African American community but is open to supporting the Hispanic, Asian American and other minority communities as well.
Growing up I remember seeing a diversity of groups participating in the parade. For me, involving all cultures made the parade and festival a more dazzling experience for the families attending. Real progression starts when everyone can participate and feel included. For anyone that is interested in participating in the parade in the future, contact the Jackie Robinson Community Center at (626) 744-7300.
The day before this year’s event, I was speaking with a friend…
He currently lives in the nearby city of Eagle Rock, but was born and raised in the city of Arcadia, which is next door to Pasadena. During our conversation he mentioned that he had never heard of or known about the Pasadena Black History Parade but thought it was a cool idea and was interested in attending.
As a vision for the future, I would have the Black History Parade committee market and promote the event earlier and strategize more creative ways to get the word out about the parade. A more robust online archive of past parades and online presence describing the history and mission of the parade would be helpful. We as a community have to be our biggest supporters of each other and we have to be the loudest billboards and use our platforms and voice to amplify these types of events that uplift our community. If we don’t show up for ourselves, it won’t intrigue or encourage others from different communities to support our movement.
The parade took a hiatus during the pandemic for 2 years. It was good to see a large crowd still come out to support the cause and be a part of Black history in 2023. This past Saturday, several thousand people turned out and enjoyed this Pasadena tradition. I would love to see that number multiply in attendance next year, so keep the Pasadena History Parade and Festival in mind for February of 2024.