The 42nd Orange County Black History Parade & Unity Festival took place in Anaheim on Saturday, Feb. 5, celebrating African American history and current and former Orange County residents. The event drew a wide range of supporters, including health care workers, youth mentorship programs, students, educators, local politicians and more. The parade kicked off at 10 a.m. with the singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Drill teams, drumlines, and dancers showcased their skills, often stopping several times per block to perform. In addition, fraternities and sororities chanted inspirational songs and slogans. The “40+ Double Dutch Club” was a notable participant, which invited attendees from the sidewalk to join them in some nostalgia-inducing jump rope.
Gloria Crockett, President & CEO of the Orange County Make a Wish Foundation said, it’s all about “celebrating people and partnerships, and setting an example for our youth.”
Many parade “floats” featured a single prominent individual, waving out the window or sunroof of a luxury automobile. Examples included fitness guru Billy Blanks, reality star Omarosa, actresses from the movie King Richard, and countless other inspiring black Americans, many of whom had a special connection to Orange County.
Kickboxer Fredia Gibbs, who rode atop a float, said, “All girls can do all things!” to a cheering crowd, inspired by her words of encouragement.
Fullerton College student Kaelin Taylor, praised the “support from the people of Anaheim and the neighboring cities.” Kandon Taylor, Kaelin’s brother, was pleased with the parade but pointed out that “we need more events that celebrate other cultures.” He also mentioned that he was looking forward to the different cuisines and booths.
After the parade, formal entertainers, including singers, comedians, and inspirational speakers, graced the three stages throughout the afternoon and into the early evening.
A Katella High School basketball team marched in the parade, and when asked during lunch what stood out, several players expressed excitement for rapper, actor, comedian Gerald “Slink” Johnson. Johnson famously voiced a character from the video game Grand Theft Auto 5, and on Saturday, while up on stage, he pronounced that “Black History Month should go beyond and be Black History Life.”
Kevin Robles, an 18-year-old who plays on the Katella basketball team, said, “As a first-time attendee, my expectations were exceeded. As a Mexican, I felt welcome and look forward to coming next year.”
Robles’ teammate, Preston Curtis, explained, “I moved from an area that was predominantly black. Being part of the parade made me feel like I’m back at home. When I first moved here, I was missing my culture, but I’ve learned to cope with different cultures.”
Black History Month has been celebrated every February since 1976. However, Carter G. Woodson had been fighting for such recognition since 1915 with the mission to study scientifically the “neglected aspects of Negro life and history.” After authoring several books and starting an academic journal, Woodson, in 1926, launched Negro History Week to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.
To supplement the parade and festival, the local museum hosted several exhibits to support the general theme: “Celebrating Our Heritage, Embracing Our Past and Building Our Future,” with art pieces created by community members of all ages.
The event was organized by the Orange County Heritage Council, with the parade led by Dwayne “BH” Shipp, the youngest son of the late parade founder, Helen M. Shipp, who founded the parade in 1980.
Comedian Al Greene was one of the many Masonic Lodge volunteers who helped make the event a reality. When asked if the event required year-round planning, Greene said, “we have about a week off, then start planning for the next year.”
As a result of the pandemic, the parade was paused, but it was well attended and covered by a number of local media outlets in 2022.
David Crockett, Trustee of the Santa Ana and Santiago Canyon Community Colleges, said, “We haven’t had a parade in a number of years, and Orange County came together to celebrate the diversity of our community.”
EDIT: This article was edited for accuracy.