Lasting for about 45 minutes, a small parade in the Central District that’s a part of Seafair unifies Seattle’s African-American community.
The Blue Angels ripped through the sky above, but down below, there was a much different Seafair celebration. In the Central District on Saturday, people celebrated togetherness and culture, an event that brought out Black Lives Matter protesters, dance squads, classic cars and a King County Metro bus that blasted The Spinners’ 1973 classic, “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love?”
These were some of the participants in this year’s Umoja Fest parade, a part of the African-American heritage festival that calls itself the “soul of Seafair” and started in the 1940s.
The festival, which continues Sunday, is now a part of Seafair but doesn’t draw nearly the crowd as other mainstays like the Torchlight Parade. Still, those taking part in Umoja Fest — Swahili for “unity” — said it’s important to Seattle’s African-American community.
Penny Scott, one of the festival’s coordinators, said that it isn’t competing with other Seafair activities but rather serving a purpose that’s different from the hydroplanes down in Genesee Park.
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“It’s bringing us together as a community, with all the things going on with the black community as a whole today,” Scott said. “We just want to be unified, just unification of black folks.”
The parade, whose spectators were sprinkled few and far between, lasted 45 minutes and brought out smaller, community organizations such as the Elegance Drill Team, South Central Athletic Association and the Old Rides Car Club but also groups like the Seattle police and Starbucks.
Participants and organizers, however, said the parade is not what it used to be. The Central District, 70 percent black in the 1960s and ’70s, today has a smaller African-American population.
Rod Williams, 53, of Rainier Beach, who drove his 1966 Chevrolet Impala station wagon in the parade, said he remembers a day when he watched a much larger event with floats and many more people.
“When I was a kid, growing up and as a teenager, this parade was huge,” he said. “It was huge and it was a community gathering. It’s not so much of a community gathering because you don’t have the base you used to have as far as African Americans.”
He said the parade doesn’t have the same “luster” it once did.
Sonya Bell, 50, of the Central District, said she’s been going to the parade since she was 7 and was out there on Saturday afternoon to watch her son march in the event.
“It has shrunk and the community, too, so it’s a lot different,” she said. “I think [it’s] important for the community, yes I do. I think it’s very important.”