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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Violet Miller

Chicago Grammy-winning poet chosen as grand marshal of Billiken parade

Geeksquad dances during the 2019 Bud Billiken Parade. (Sun-Times file)

J. Ivy, a Chicago poet and 2023 Grammy winner, has been named grand marshal of next month’s 94th Bud Biliken Parade.

Ivy became the first winner of a category created for spoken-word poetry albums with his fourth album, “The Poet Who Sat By the Door,” after he had lobbied for the creation of the category for more than half a decade.

“It’s the ultimate honor,” Ivy, 47, said. “Bud Biliken, those are the foundations of being able to stand on stages [like the Grammy’s]. … It’s a beautiful celebration of Black excellence.”

The parade, started in 1929, kicks off the back-to-school season. Started by Chicago Defender publisher Robert Sengstacke Abbott, it’s the largest, longest-running African American parade in the United States. Billiken was a fictional character created by Abbott and drawn by Willard Motley. He was portrayed as a guardian angel for children, and appeared in the Defender’s children’s section.

Ivy said after being chosen, he reflected on going to the parade when he was younger and all those who got him to where he is now. That largely included his family, but also his former teacher Paula Argue. He credited her in his Grammy speech for pushing him into his first poetry performance.

J. Ivy, at the Grammy awards in February, where he won for Best Spoken Word Poety Album. (Getty Images)

“To stand in this place in history as a poet and as a proud Chicagoan,” Ivy said. “Chicago has been my North Star. There wouldn’t be a J. Ivy if it wasn’t for Chicago.”

He said since education was an integral part of his “foundation,” he has always wanted to go back to schools to tell kids to chase their dreams and “climb their mountain,” which he said he’ll be able to do as grand marshal.

The theme of this year’s parade, which continues to hold the title of the largest African American parade and second largest parade in the country, is “Parading in Peace Block by Block.”

“To march for Black excellence, to parade for peace and greatness,” Ivy said. “We’re marching to help uplift our future leaders, to fundraise and send these kids back to school in a peaceful, safe environment where they can become the great leaders of the future. To stand in that space, and to know that the city has entrusted me with that, I’m just overwhelmed with joy.”

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