Juneteenth parade Grand Marshal heartened by youth participation

Photo contributed by Michelle Denise Milam, of the City of Richmond.

At 83 years old, Mel Davis knows he’ll one day have to pass the baton.

The longtime community advocate, currently treasurer of the Neighborhood Block Association (NBA) and formerly a member of the City of Richmond Parks and Recreation Commission, has for years been sharing the history and culture of African Americans by helping to organize the annual Juneteenth Parade and Festival in Richmond, which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S.

On Saturday, June 15, Davis will be the Grand Marshal of the event, sponsored annually by Chevron Richmond in partnership with the NBA and City of Richmond.

Davis is grateful for the honor. But he and other community members enter Saturday saddened that fellow organizer Duane Chapman can only attend the parade in spirit. Chapman, a highly respected community advocate who would MC the parade, died last year after a long illness. This year’s parade and festival will be held in his memory.

Davis said Chapman’s passing further showed the need for older generations to identify younger people willing to continue organizing the festival.

“He was a very committed person to the community,” Davis said, adding, “We are trying to pass it on to the younger people, keep it going.”

Juneteenth 2016, Credit: City of Richmond

In some ways, Davis said, younger generations are grabbing a hold of Juneteenth at events across the nation, allowing it to continue to blossom in minds and hearts. Youth will have high representation among the 30 groups participating in Saturday’s parade, Davis said.

He’s hoping that in the social media age where there’s almost too much going on, young people exposed to the event will be inspired to pick up the baton.

The parade has a new route this year, starting at Booker T. Anderson (960 Carlson) at 10 a.m., traveling along Carlson to S. 37th, then onto Macdonald Avenue ending at Nichol Park. For the first time since 1993, the Shriners from Menelik Temple No. 36 will participate in the parade, Davis said.

At 11 a.m., the free family-friendly festival begins at Nicholl Park, featuring live music and entertainment on two stages, a kid’s activities area, ethnic foods, local vendors, health screenings and more.

Davis has been part of this Juneteenth planning committee back when it was organized by the city, before the NBA took over. He also planned the Cinco de Mayo festival when it was held by the city at City Hall, and DJ’d the fireworks show at the former Festival by the Bay events. He particularly cherishes his time serving on the city parks commission, where he learned the inner-workings of city government and the interplay of community and politics.

Such experiences, he says, taught him culture, history, and the power of unity and community. He wants young people to be able to share in those experiences, to continue the enrichment and culture taught through events such as Juneteenth.

“I’m always interested in learning, still am,” Davis said. “Like everybody else, everything that I am was taught to me. And I need to keep these things moving. We need our younger generations to take that on.”