Always the first Saturday of February, the Orange County Heritage Council’s 43rd Black History Parade and Unity Festival calls in all local businesses and community members to take a day to commemorate and bring together individuals who have uplifted the community and left their footprints in Orange County history.
OCHC Annual Black History Parade and Unity Festival
When: 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Feb. 4. Parade starts at 10 a.m., Unity Festival starts at noon
Where: 205 W. Center Street Promenade, Anaheim
Contact: (714) 579-9966; www.oc-hc.org
While last year’s parade and festival had an excellent turnout, it was also the event’s first year back in person since the pandemic forced organizers to cancel it in 2021. With OCHC anticipating an even bigger turnout than last year, attendees can look forward to more food, entertainment, and plenty of parking.
In its 43rd year, “Our History, Our Voice, Our Pride” is the theme for this year’s Black History Parade and Unity Festival.
This annual tradition was started in 1980 in Santa Ana by the late Helen M. Shipp to “continue the traditions and culture of African Americans by honoring the achievements and contributions of Black history,” according to its website. The event is carried on by Shipp’s son and now-OCHC president, Dwayne “BH” (Be Humble) Shipp.
“I would encourage everyone to come because it’s not just Black history; it’s everyone’s history because it’s a history that has shaped this country,” said King Karlton, a Santa Ana musician performing at this year’s festival.
Uplifting the Youth: ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’
The pre-show for the parade is scheduled for 9 a.m., and the parade will kick off at 10 a.m. on Anaheim Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue, continuing south to Water Street and returning to Anaheim City Hall.
Onlookers can expect to see local marching bands, floats, city officials and community units such as school and church groups, singing and dancing groups, nonprofits and other notable community members who have partaken in the history of Orange County and nearby areas.
One of the groups marching in the parade is Youth-on-the-Move, Inc., an international, nonprofit education program that first participated in the OCHC Black History Parade around 2010, Adelekan said.
The education program was founded in Sacramento in 1986 by what esteemed educator and founder Patricia Adelekan, Ph.D., described as “out of a need then.” The program stretched its branch to Orange County sometime between 2003 and 2004, Adelekan said.
At the time, Adelekan and her family were living in Nigeria, West Africa, where her husband was a medical doctor, as well as a high-ranking politician. But during a political coup in Nigeria, Adelekan’s husband was detained and incarcerated, while Adelekan was told to return to America, she said.
“I became a single parent, like overnight, with four children, three sons and one daughter,” Adelekan said. “I was freaking out. I worked for the school district (in Sacramento). And I said, ‘How can I bring up these four children by myself?’”
Adelekan reached out to the community for help — a fellow educator/college student answered her call while also pointing out a gap in the community.
“He said, ‘I don’t see any of our kids — that time, Black kids he was talking about — in our museums and other learning and fun places during the summer,” Adelekan said, recollecting the conversation.
Working full time at the school district, Adelekan encouraged the college student to facilitate mentorships and take her sons and other young people to these destinations throughout the summer. This group of 12 to 15 youth members became the first to reap the benefits of Youth on the Move, back when it was first known as the Young Brothers Association.
At the end of the summer, a thank you party was organized to recognize the 200 community volunteers who mentored the students. But people weren’t ready to give up this program yet — it was then that the community suggested the Young Brothers Association become a mainstay, year-round program, renaming it Youth on the Move.
“It’s all embracive: All cultures, all ages, all subjects, no matter what the child wants, we find people to mentor the child, to help the child, coach the child, etc., and the families are involved,” the founder said.
Today, the mission statement for Youth on the Move is “to help youth succeed in life, with the help of positive community role models,” Adelekan said.
In the parade, attendees will see parents, families, students, students who tutor, tutors, the community, and anyone who fits in the “village context.”
“It takes a village to raise a kid, so we invite everybody (to walk in the parade). And that’s what young people want to see. They want to see and know that somebody cares about them. Somebody is supporting them,” Adelekan said.
Sharing Messages of Black Culture and History Through Student Artwork
After the parade, onlookers can head to the Center Street Promenade, where folks will be greeted by the Unity Festival, previously known as the Cultural Faire, from noon to 5 p.m.
There will be several sections to the Unity Festival, including the Health Village, hosted by the National Council of Negro Women OC. Visitors can stop by for health information and screenings, and COVID-19 tests and vaccines.
The other section, managed by Delta Sigma Thet Sorority Orange County Alumnae, is the Youth Village. It features scholarships available to students, youth entertainment, interactive lessons on Black history and other activities. The Youth Art Contest artwork can also be found in the Youth Village, where it is run by Wanda Reynolds, who created the contest and has been OCHC’s Youth Art Contest Coordinator for the past decade.
Every year students from kindergarten to 12th grade are eligible to submit artwork to the Youth Art Contest, where they create 2D artwork accompanied by a short message that demonstrates the recurring art theme: “The Black Legacy cultivated by excellence in the arts, athletics, economics, education, service, health & community.”
The artwork will be judged by grade level, theme representation and quality of work, with all first-place winners having their art displayed at the Muzeo Museum and Cultural Center in Anaheim from Feb. 18 through May 13. On the day of the festival, the artwork will be displayed in the Youth Village booth, and prizes will be awarded to the first-place winners.
While the effects of the pandemic have seeped their way into every crack, the Youth Art Contest has been no exception.
“So where before I was able to contact people and get them to have their children participate — It hasn’t worked out,” she said.
Every festival season, Reynolds reaches out to several organizations to help rally artists for the contest. However, some places, such as churches, have canceled all youth activities since the beginning of the pandemic, leaving Reynolds with a small pool of contestants.
“Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, we have gotten less (submissions),” Reynolds said. “I think last year we had 10. And this year, I would say maybe we’ll have about 15. Previously, we had around 20.”
But Reynolds said that not everyone returns to pick up their art, so she fills the space in the booth with art from the current year and previous years, preserving the artists’ messages and allowing their art and words to transcend to future festival attendees.
Spreading Unity Through Music
Last year, the festival featured three stages, and this time around, the trio returns with the James Weldon Stage in the Youth Village, the main stage referred to as “Freedom Stage,” and the “Culture Stage” for hip-hop and break dancing.
Amid the lineup for the Culture Stage is Vernon Karl Carter, Jr., but most will know him by his stage name, King Karlton.
King Karlton comes from the freezing temperatures of Detroit, Michigan, and in 2011 he and a friend made their new homes in Santa Ana, where King Karlton continued a musical career that he first started crafting in Detroit.
“I wanted to explore a new territory,” King Karlton said. “We kind of took a leap of faith and came on out here to see what California had to offer. And I really haven’t looked back since, even career-wise, I’ve had a lot of success out here.”
Aside from being a hip-hop musician, King Karlton has created his own company called Function Presents, a media and entertainment start-up that focuses on utilizing his skills in videography, social media and event curation to work with local small businesses, artists, events and nonprofits to help promote their brands.
While he has worked in the community for a few years, his first time attending the Black History Parade and Unity Festival was during last year’s event. King Karlton soon found himself looking for organizers to tell them about his interest in joining the festival for the following year.
“I’m just looking forward to doing it. It was something that I’ve seen, and I was in attendance to. And then I have the chance to be a part of it, so it was kind of like a dream come true or instant gratification,” King Karlton said.
Most of King Karlton’s music is based on socio-political commentary, such as one of his favorite songs to perform, “World?” This track can be found on SoundCloud or Bandcamp, and questions the state of the world and where it’s heading.
“Being able to have a platform such as (this festival), it really goes hand in hand with what I promote and what I think about, such as equality or struggle that happened in the past, or how we do have unity amongst each other,” King Karlton said.
Kristina Garcia is a contributing writer for Voice of OC Arts & Culture. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.