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clock Aug 11, 2007 9:06 pm US/Central

Bud Billiken Parade Draws Nearly 1 Million People

Back-To School Parade Held Various Festivities, But Gun Violence Was Also Addressed At Event

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(CBS) CHICAGO The 78th annual Bud Billiken Day Parade kicked off Saturday morning, and over 1 million people were expected to turn out for one of the city's most celebrated events.

As CBS 2's Mai Martinez reports, dignitaries from the mayor to both of Illinois' United States senators were among the nearly 75,000 people marching.

For the second year in a row, Sen. Barack Obama was the grand marshal for the parade, and got loud cheers along the route.

Obama said he was glad to be back on the South Side and he's confident in his support among black voters.

He said the community has looked after him for years and, "This is my crew."

What began in 1929 as the wish of Chicago Defender's founder Robert S. Abbott to organize the many youth who sold the newspaper, mushroomed into what is now the largest parade in the United States with high school marching bands and homemade barbecue, according to parade organizers.

The result of a brainstorming session between Abbott and his managing editor Luscious Harper produced the name Bud Billiken. A club was also established, complete with membership cards and identification buttons. The founders of the parade also added a picnic -- held this year in Washington Park -- to the days' festivities.

"I like the festivities. I like the floats and stuff, the bands. I really like the bands,� said parade participant Leroy Bridges.

While fun and excitement are the theme of the day here, this parade also carries with it a very serious message about the importance of staying in school. The annual parade is also considered by many to be the best back-to-school event of the summer, including Mayor Daley -- who pushed getting kids back to school at the event. Many participants say in light of the deadly school year last year, that message is more important now than ever.

"School is September 4; we need every child that day. If they come the first day, they'll be very successful. If they miss the first day, the first week, couple of weeks, unfortunately, the statistics show that's why you need them back in school,� Daley said.

Obama agreed on the parade's message and the sentiments shared by many.

"It's a wonderful message. It's a great celebration,� he said. �It's not too hot today, and we're just thrilled to be home."

"It's something that we look forward to every year, and we're very proud of it," said participant Nathalie Thompson. "It�s a coming together of family, community, friends, and just a great celebration. It's tradition, tradition for our culture and our neighborhood, and it signifies the last greatest celebration before returning to school.�

"It has all of the different communities in it. Everyone gets to participate," added participant Tenita Green. "You get to sponsor or encourage kids to go back to school and let everyone know how exciting it is to go back to school; keep education in first place."

Community members reacted to gun violence in Chicago neighborhoods with an alternative to a parade float at the parade.

One group participating in the parade brought a particularly serious message. The Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) joined more than 70 people bound to wheelchairs because of gun violence to encourage people to speak out against guns and to promote safer schools.

"We value them,� said Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan about students. �There's nothing more important than getting a great education. If our students get a great education, they can do anything in life. If they don't, we handicap them forever."

According to the IDHS, more than 70 wheelchair-bound gunshot victims went through the parade beneath a banner reading "Come Roll With Us�Make a Difference in Your Community." The effort was part of the "See Something? Say Something" campaign to combat the "don't snitch" rule that often deters people from reporting crime in many communities, the department said.

"With all the bad things that�s going on in Chicago of losing young people, here's an opportunity for young people to come out and see a very positive event,� said parade worker and organizer Aesha El-Amin.

Many young parade goers say the message of peace and the importance of getting a good education rang loud and clear.

"Coming here is really positive because it shows that people really care about you, not just saying 'okay, we care,' but they're showing it,� said parade participant Nakeya Boyles.

The parade kicked off at 10 a.m. from Pershing Road and King Drive. In order to serve the people expected to line the parade route, which stretches along King Drive to Garfield Boulevard, the CTA provided extra bus and rail service to the area all day.

Last year more than 74,000 people marched and 160 floats and vehicles took part in the parade. This year, in addition to Obama, participants included U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

CBS 2's Mai Martinez, the Associated Press and the STNG Wire contributed to this report.

(© MMVII, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

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