Riverside Hosts 40th Black History Parade
By Dianne Anderson
Never underestimate the power of the Black Student Union, the student group responsible for starting the Black History Month parade in Riverside 40 years ago.
This year, Dell Roberts reflects on the major role that his BSU kids took upon themselves to get their vision off the ground.
They represented an untapped reservoir of talent and determination at a time when there was little to speak of by way of Black cultural events in the city.
Roberts then coached football, and led the NAACP for California Youth, along with the Black Student Union. In 1967, when he suggested his students boycott a speech by former Gov. George Wallace of Alabama at Riverside’s Ramona High School, they wanted to protest instead.
“They said no, we’re going out there. We were out there picketing. The FBI was on the roof taking my picture,” Roberts said.
Often, he took the BSU students out to various Black History parades outside of the area, but they wanted their own, and they didn’t want to wait. He challenged them to go to the police department for the proper permit, and speak before city council for approval.
Stephanie Stokes, this year’s Grand Marshal, stepped up to the challenge. She secured the permit from the police for $2.65 and they laughed at her.
“They said good luck with the parade young lady, like he didn’t think it would happen,” he said.
Roberts said that Stokes went before the city council, received $250 and permission to march, which started the first parade at the corner of University and Chicago and went to UCR. Today, those students are all grown, many successful, and have shared with him how that early experience impacted their adult lives.
Much of the BSU success was also based on trust. He gave them the responsibility to handle the cash box, and they took care of business. At Poly High School, where he oversaw discipline for 15 years, his office was mainly run by students. They answered phones, received guests, and did a good job.
Today, one of his students is a secretary at Riverside Community College.
“Whenever I go over there she says that’s the guy that taught me to be a secretary – well that’s a stretch,” he laughs. “Holly Mitchell, the state senator out of L.A., she was my BSU president for two years.”
He said Cheryl C. Murphy, recently appointed to judgeship in the Riverside County Superior Court, was also one of his BSU students at Poly High School.
Back then, he would take the youth to state conferences to meet up with 1,500 students from other BSU units. He helped them learn to politic, and how to get votes. Over the years, he said he is also grateful for steadfast volunteers, like Russel Ward, the co-chair of the parade, who has been with the programming nearly every year since high school when the parade started.
This year, local barbershop owner John Jefferson and his wife Lakisha are handling some of parade planning, which Roberts said has been a huge help.
“I’m just thanking God that some young people are stepping up that can do it. Most of the things that I do, there’s no one to take over,” he said.
On Saturday, February 9, the parade starts at 10:00 a.m. from Riverside Community College at Terracina and Magnolia, down Market Street, finishing up in front of the historic Court House.
Dozens of entrants this year include the Grand Marshals – Beverly Nezart Gardner and Stephanie Stokes. Poly Jr. ROTC, the Riverside Fire Department will be out with the trucks featuring Fire Chief Mike Moore, Mayor Rusty Bailey, along with the City Council members, and Human Relations commissioner Monrow Mabon.
Also featured, African American Parent Council of Moreno Valley, Riverside NAACP President Regina Stell. Riv. African American Historical Society, Denise Booker – Riverside City Council Ward 1, The Ujima Project, Riverside Alumni Chapter Kappa Alpha Phi, San Bernardino Pacesetters Drill Team and Drum Squad, Tommy the Clown, and many others.
Behind the scenes, Mrs. Carmen Roberts is making sure everything runs correctly to go off without a hitch, and everyone is on the same page to buy into the big picture.
It’s the community unity that has kept the effort going strong.
Plus, there is satisfaction in knowing the community still has a place where they can catch up with about 2-3000 friends and family to enjoy the day and the heritage.
She said that husband, Dell has been the driving force.
“When he starts something, there is a stick-to-itness about him,” she said.
For years, they didn’t charge anything to participate in the parade, but as sponsorship minimized, they started charging $25 per entrant out of necessity, but she said everyone can still afford to get in on the action.
“If you have 20 people or 20 acts in the group, the whole drum squad, that’s $25,” she said. “We’re a community-based organization. We’re not trying to make it hard to have anyone in the parade.”
Too many Black History parades have come to a grinding halt over the years for lack of funding.
While their parade makes no profit, it still costs a lot to pull off. They go out to beat the bushes and win the buy-in from many community-minded supporters, and loyal volunteers.
“There are parades that have fallen by the wayside. We’re still going. It’s because of the commitment and the dedication of the volunteers who assist us, the city and our sponsors,” she said.
For more information, see https://www.adcrfoundation.org/