The event’s theme was “Celebrating our Excellence — The Legacy of Councilmember John J. Kennedy,” dedicated to the longtime public servant and Pasadena native who died last year.
Following a parade with more than 90 schools, community organizations and public figures, the festivities continued at nearby Robinson Park with live music and food trucks. For many Pasadena residents, attending this event was a continuation of a yearly tradition interrupted by the pandemic.
“I’ve been bringing my kids here since they were 5 years old, and now they’re 35,” Rita Robinson said. “I’ve been bringing them here for over 30 years. They’re grown and gone, but I still come.”
Nearby, Paullyn Smith shared a similar story.
“I come every year except when they didn’t have it,” Smith said. “I’ve come for a long time because my mother participated in it when she was part of the Jackie Robinson Center.”
Smith added that “it was really good” there were more participants from different cultures.
“Celebrating Black excellence is celebrating the Black people, [but] it’s also about all the different nationalities participating together and being at peace,” she said.
One of the highlights of the parade was House of Ghettique, a community-based drill team with members from ages 5-18, led by choreographer and costume designer Daishon Hardson. The group’s performance was accompanied by the L.A. Limited Edition Drumline.
“We’re here supporting and spreading peace, love and happiness; that’s our team motto,” Hardson said. “It felt great being here with all these different backgrounds and everybody enjoying themselves.”
In Robinson Park, its main stage featured a variety of musical talent, from Grammy-nominated R&B artist MAJOR to djembe drum band Balandugu Kan.
“We resonate to the spirit of Africa and the spirit of Pan Africanism,” Balandugu Kan member Dr. Rahsan Cummings said. “We’re paying homage to the men and women of [the village of] Balandugu whose voice and soul resonate with us.”
When asked why he likes playing traditional tribal music, Cummings said that it’s “authentic.”
“It resonates to the soul, the real soul of my people,” he said. “We’re not just laughing and playing and having a good time. We’re talking to the ancestors and bringing them into our lives. They become animated; we can see them and we can feel them. They’re here with us.”
In addition to music, Robinson Park had booths for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and handmade crafts, among others.
Gloria Sanyika was a vendor teaching and selling crafts using the technique of coiling, which was brought into the United States through the transatlantic slave trade. Her business, Lost Domestic Arts, is focused on reviving such traditional artforms.
As for the Black History Parade, Sanyika said it felt like “an annual affirmation.”
“The thing is, a lot of people will try to say things to make you feel low or make you feel down. But if you embrace your history and look at the good and apply that to yourself, then nobody can tell you that you’re not excellent,” she said. “That’s what this is all about.”