Black History Month Parade introduces block party, attracts all ages

Phyllis Coley, CEO and publisher of Spectacular Magazine and main planner of the Black History Month Parade waves at the front of the parade. (Staff photo by Kenzie Cook)

North Carolina’s Annual Black History Month Parade has partied its way down Fayetteville Street past NCCU’s campus for nearly 20 years. But the 16th anniversary of the event brought something new: a block party.

Members of the Research Triangle Charter Academy Pearls Auxiliary Team pose together as they wait for the parade to begin. From left: Amarii Lofton, Leelah Ray, Kori Lewis, Shawni Lucas and Jordyn Jackson. (Staff photo by Kenzie Cook)

Phyllis Coley, the CEO and publisher of Spectacular Magazine, as well as the main organizer of the parade, said she thought adding the block party would bring more young people to the scene and give families and observers more things to do.

“We wanted more people to come and enjoy themselves, so we put a party every block in four parking lots along Fayetteville Street,” Coley said.

And enjoy themselves they did.

Music blasted from DJ booths. Food trucks opened for business next to T-shirt vendors. Inflatable slides, obstacle courses and bounce houses provided fun for people of all ages.

Crowds milled around the parking lots at Fayetteville Street Elementary School, Church’s Chicken, NCCU’s student union and Brant Street. Girl Scouts selling cookies set up shop between parties to catch passers-by. Families plopped chairs and blankets down along the street to wait for the parade.

Several students from NCCU ventured to the block party outside the student union, some for the first time.

Marielle Gabriele, 21, a junior family and consumer sciences major at NCCU, had never been to the Black History Month Parade before. After learning about the block party from a friend, she decided to check it out.

“I didn’t know it before because I guess I was never really involved as much, but being here now and talking to people…it’s actually more exciting,” Gabriele explained.

While the block parties were entertaining parade-goers, those involved in the parade were lining up at W. G. Pearson Elementary school. Two of the featured marching bands representing NCCU and Research Triangle Charter Academy lined up along the side of the road, practicing their parade tunes and dances. The Pearls Auxiliary Team of RTCA practiced their routines on the opposite side of the street.

The five dancers in Pearls—Kori Lewis, Amarii Lofton, Shawni Lucas, Jordyn Jackson and Leelah Ray—enjoy performing in the Black History Month Parade, even if they haven’t yet grasped the importance of the occasion.

One of the Pearls said she enjoyed performing in the parade, but didn’t see how it was any different than other parades they have performed in.

Some parents of these RTCA students hoped being involved in the parade would help them come to understand the impact of Black History Month.

“A lot of times the kids either aren’t paying attention or don’t know what’s going on; they only know they’re here to perform,” said Ceara Lucas, 31, a Durham native and mother of one of the Pearls. “But I know for RTCA, they teach them the meaning behind Black History [Month] and the different projects they do during February.”

The parade began at noon—an hour after the block parties—with veterans, marching bands, and church and school groups. At the very front of the parade, Coley herself waved from the sunroof of an SUV.

Even after the parade ended, the block parties continued full blast for a couple more hours as crowds thinned out and people escaped the cold.

Each year, the parade has a new event to bring out larger crowds. Last year hosted a step competition among sororities and fraternities. Only time will tell if the block party makes an appearance in years to come.

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