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This Juneteenth car parade through South L.A. is the kind of traffic L.A. needs

photo collage of a marching band member with balloons, motorcycles and confetti around him.
(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

“Parade” oftentimes means something long-standing, big-budget and stuffy. The Juneteenth in L.A. car parade is anything but.

Picture this: hundreds of cars following each other, switching lanes. Motorcycles buzzing. Spectators eagerly cheering on sidewalks. News crews swarming. Helicopters buzzing overhead following the action. And they’re headed along the same route as Nipsey Hussle’s procession through Inglewood and Crenshaw.

Juneteenth 2021: This is how Black L.A. is celebrating

“We’re specifically going through Inglewood and South Central. That’s it,” says Aaliyah Thomas, 26, co-founder of the collective Juneteenth in L.A. “Because that’s the heart of Black Los Angeles.”

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Juneteenth in L.A. was conceived last year by Thomas and childhood friends Tylynn Burns and Ricole Carillo, both 25, as a way of explicitly connecting the historical significance of Juneteenth to last year’s confluence of upheavals in many spheres of public life.

It was an urgent, vibrant injection of cultural context for an urgent, vibrant moment.

Truly Black. Truly L.A.

The parade will return for its 2021 edition this Saturday. Those interested in driving in the parade can register with a Google form.

We caught up with Thomas, a sales planner at Hulu with plans to attend USC for a master’s in journalism, to talk about the makings of the parade, the future of the Juneteenth in L.A. collective and how she and her co-conspirators plan to build on last year’s energy.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did the Juneteenth in L.A. 2020 parade come to be?

Ricole came to me in June with this idea of filming a Juneteenth PSA with me as her spokesperson. I told her, “I think we should do a mini parade” — it gets crazy — to bring awareness to her film. And at this time this was the [height] of Black Lives Matter, we had just gone to a protest, so there was just a lot of synergy going around. So Juneteenth is the perfect holiday to make people acknowledge the reality of slavery and its legacy.

I told her, “Let’s do a drive-by parade because of COVID.” I was like, let’s go find Issa Rae’s house, you know, just drive through L.A., go to prominent Black neighborhoods and houses and just take all of our friends. And just like how people were doing graduation parades and birthday, baby shower drive-bys, we were like, “let’s do a Juneteenth parade.”

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So long story short, the idea just took on a life of its own. We brought Tylnn in, and once we posted on Instagram, it took off. Like, it went up in flames.

How did the three of you meet, and what is your working relationship?

We’re all friends since we were little. Me and Tylnn — I’ve known her since kindergarten. We basically say we’re cousins. And Ricole, we’ve known her since middle school. We all grew up in Inglewood, South-Central L.A. So we’ve all just been really close. We have a group, and the group sticks together.

We work well together because we all have different tricks and trades. Tylynn — agency, curating and executing events, creative director. Me — publicist, journalist, spokesperson, hypewoman. Ricole — film and photography. It’s a friendship and a family and a business-ship all in one. That’s why it works for us. It’s genuine.

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What was the parade experience like last year?

The theme of the parade was community. We’re just three Black girls, no connections, no political ties, no nothing. We just had an idea and executed it. The community really did play a huge part in helping us be safe and make our destinations.

And then you had the NBC helicopter following us; they had a news anchor actually in the parade in a cruiser. We had over 200 cars. We had the Corvette Club, we had the L.A. Motorcycle Club. Me and my friends decided to get Jeeps. We just thought that they would be fun and easy to hang out of. So the Jeeps have now become a thing, and the everybody knows us as the yellow Jeep.

Did you expect the event would get the traction that it got last year?

No, no, not at all! When we did it last year, we just really had faith in our friends and family pulling up, but then an even bigger community came through.

How is the vibe of the parade different this year as opposed to the urgency of 2020?

I feel like people are excited.

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The Juneteenth parade, it was a lot of older people out there crying once they saw us coming down the street. It was just very emotional because when you think about it, our grandparents and our great-grandparents, they really was fighting for us to have rights and for us to be able to live a normal life. They were very motivated to see that the new generation cares about their history.

We couldn’t do much to celebrate Juneteenth 2020. We’re making up for it now. Here’s a list of Juneteenth 2021 events around L.A.

In order to prevent history from [repeating] itself you have to learn your history. You have to be educated. [We’re] giving children the opportunity to learn about Juneteenth and to look at it like it’s fun. Like, “Ooh, Mom, we’re going to the Juneteenth parade!” You have ownership of something. This is what this year is really about: Taking back ownership and just being lit! It’s really time to recognize what being Black in America truly is about.

Are you hoping to make this annual? How do you see it evolving?

Yes, absolutely. Definitely want to make this an annual thing going forward. Definitely going to make sure we file all correct paperwork so we can be a full-blown community organization, because one thing I have noticed is that people love to monetize our Blackness. You see how people try to capitalize on our Blackness, and now people are trying to capitalize on Juneteenth, and it’s not genuine. That’s why I definitely want to make sure that this is going to be an annual parade, so we can continue this story of it being something genuine for the culture and for the community. And to make it a point that this will be here regardless of if a company forgets about Juneteenth in five years or not. We’re not just here for the wave — we’re really here.


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