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Black History on Parade

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With lots of practice and a little prayer, 7-year-old Elliott McKinney made it through her tap-dance routine Saturday morning in the annual Black History Parade with an ear-to-ear smile.

For the past two months, Elliott has been going over every step of the dance in her mind as well as on her feet. But moments before she was set to march down Broadway to the Eddie West Stadium, Elliott said she “got the butterflies.”

“So I prayed,” said Elliott, who was among the 30 4- to 11-year-olds representing Friendship Baptist Church of Yorba Linda in the parade. “I asked God not to let me be nervous and scared. Then I wasn’t scared anymore. I did really, really well.”

In a way, this year’s Black History Parade and cultural fair resembled Elliott’s performance--it succeeded on hard work and “some help from above,” said James Porter, a computer software instructor who volunteered to work in Saturday’s event.

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Organizers said they have been working year-round to raise money, coordinate the event, and get the word out among the county’s 40,000 to 45,000 African Americans. Then, just before the big day, they prayed--especially for sunshine, Porter said.

“Last year, it rained throughout the day. And the years before, it rained on the day of the parade, or the day before, or overnight,” Porter said. “This year, it’s exactly what we wanted. It’s perfect.”

Mild temperatures and clear skies greeted the 8,000 to 10,000 who attended. Some danced in the streets while they watched the parade; others munched on hot dogs, barbecued beef sandwiches and ice cream at the fair afterward. Peddlers of African imports joined representatives from churches, adoption agencies and scholarship services running informational booths at the fair.

Popular among children was a face-painting booth, an arts-and-craft lesson and a storytelling session.

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Deatrice Varnie of Anaheim brought her three children, ages 7 to 19, to listen to African folklore and learn about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other prominent African Americans.

“It brings back what Africa is and what being an African American means,” Varnie said. “It gives me something to share with my children.”

Sponsored by the Mission With Benevolence Foundation, this year’s event included appearances by Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) and Assemblyman Jim Morrissey (R-Anaheim). Los Angeles Laker Byron Scott was scheduled to speak Saturday afternoon, organizers said.

The event also attracted high school bands, church youth groups and support agencies such as the 100 Black Men of Orange County, a nonprofit organization that helps mentor young African Americans.

Some of the more untraditional participants included the Route 66 motorcycle club, which includes a priest, a UCLA professor and a garment industry worker nicknamed “Chocolate Chip.”

Saturday’s parade appearance was the club’s first in Orange County, although members have ridden in several Los Angeles Black History Month parades. Donning black leather pants, vests and jackets and bandannas under their helmets, members said they’re out to change the public perception of motorcycle clubs.

“We’re not the hard-core types,” said Charles McMillan, club president. “We have caring aspects to what we do. We do Thanksgiving baskets. We try to help our community. We pray.”


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