“Black History is American history, it’s all our history.” That’s the simple message from the president of the Palm Springs Black History Committee, Jarvis Crawford, who emceed the city’s 35th Annual Black History Parade Downtown on Saturday.
Last year’s parade was converted into a caravan, and that tradition carried on this year with a caravan through African American History in Palm Springs held on Monday. But the parade was always the highlight of Black History Month in the city, and organizers didn’t disappoint during its return on Saturday.
The energy and excitement was electric, not just in the crowd, but also in the almost 40 parade entrants.
You could hear the propulsive drum beats of the LA Limited Addition Drum Line long before you could see them. The Drum Line and Ghettique Drill Team left L.A. at 6:30 a.m. to get to the parade on time. The group is made up of kids from second grade through 12th grade who meet outside of school to practice.
Andrea Dixon has two children in the group. After the Kingdom Day parade honoring Martin Luther King Jr. was canceled in South L.A., she said they were so disappointed. Saturday’s event in Palm Springs was their first chance to perform in a parade since the beginning of the pandemic. “They’re so excited!” she exclaimed.
The crowd of locals and tourists alike couldn’t wait for the parade to get started. Victoria Lloyd and her wife Mary, who came from Indio, attended two years ago. This year they were some of the first to set up camp along the parade route at around 9:30 a.m., an hour and a half before the start of the parade.
“We had people coming up to us asking what’s going on,” Lloyd said. “It’s so fun. I’m so glad it’s back.” As unofficial parade ambassadors they spread the word and soon the crowds started lining the streets in anticipation.
Palm Springs Police estimate some 3,000 people watched the parade along the half-mile route on Palm Canyon Drive. That had Jody Diaz, vice president of the Black History Committee, marveling.
“It’s the largest crowd I’ve ever seen for this parade,” she said.
The parade was kicked off with the Desert Hot Springs Marine Corps Junior ROTC, followed by the Palm Springs High School Spirit of the Sands Band and Visual Corps.
Midway through the parade, a caravan of three cars drove by with the sign “Section 14 Survivors” displayed — a powerful reminder to locals about what was lost decades ago.
“We were here when there was nothing. We survived it,” yelled one woman from one of the cars to parade onlookers.
Local officials, including Mayor Lisa Middleton and Mayor Pro-Tem Grace Garner, waved from convertibles. Rep. Raul Ruiz was seen walking and waving at the crowd with his family.
The driving energy of the Drum Lines, competing speakers blasting music, groups singing African spirituals, and mariachi bands was impossible to ignore, and those shopping in Downtown couldn’t help but stop and enjoy the parade.
Once the parade was over, the crowd was invited to attend the Town Fair at the new Downtown Park. Local business owners near the park watched as hundreds of people filed into the fair, thankful for the major foot traffic.
Even if people missed the parade, they were drawn into the fair by its music, brightly colored striped tents, and the irresistible smell of BBQ. The heart of Downtown came alive with 15 vendor booths, as well as inflatable bounce houses for kids.
It wasn’t all fun and games though. Local non-profit Lift To Rise had several booths, and they were there to help people sign up to take advantage of rental assistance applications.
“We help with all the paperwork, and try to make the process as easy and accessible as possible.” said Joe Mota, director of resident leadership.
The theme of this year’s parade was “Black and Health and Wellness.” Crawford said it was chosen to emphasize the importance of taking time for oneself amid the ongoing pandemic, “We have to push forward.”