Why was a video message from President Obama, emailed in the middle of the night to organizers of the historic Bud Billiken Parade just hours before the festivities kicked off, barely seen and now vanished–almost without a trace?
This past Saturday, the same day Obama was traveling to Chicago for a series of high-dollar fundraisers, the largest African-American parade in the country was held on the south side of the city.
The organizers of the annual Bud Billiken parade had originally announced that President Obama had agreed to be the Grand Marshall of the parade, which Obama has a history of attending. In fact, the theme of this year’s parade was “Education: Built to Last; A Tribute to President Barack Obama.” However, in July, Obama’s campaign office announced that the President would not be able to be the Grand Marshall, citing a scheduling conflict.
The Chicago Tribune reported that Cornel Eugene Scott, the parade chairman, had “gone through the White House to get the president on board” for the parade. But it was the President’s campaign officials who would be the ones to cancel his appearance, sending in his place Deputy Assistant (and Valerie Jarrett aide) Michael Strautmanis.
What has surfaced, in the days following the parade, is a video from the President himself delivering a message to the South side of Chicago residents attending the parade. The video reportedly was emailed to parade organizers at 3 a.m. Central Daylight Time the night before the parade.
The President begins the video with, “Hello, South side!” and goes on to stress the parade theme of strong public education and starting off the new school year right.
Obama then addresses not only his absence from the parade, but also his silence on the issue of violence in the black community–particularly in Chicago, which leads the nation in homicides this year. There were 23 shootings in Chicago over the weekend of the parade.
“Even as we come together for this parade, we know there have been too many mindless acts of violence in our communities,” Obama said. “We grieve for the children who have been taken from us.”
What’s perplexing is the recorded video was never shown during the parade to the attendees, “as intended.” The video was also nowhere to be seen during ABC 7 News Chicago’s live coverage of the parade.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, “Beverly Scott of the Chicago Defender Charities said the video landed in her e-mail about 3 a.m. Saturday. She turned it over on Saturday morning to Central City Productions, the company that has produced the live broadcast of the Bud Billiken Parade for the past 38 years.”
Don Jackson, chairman and CEO of Central City Productions, told the Sun-Times, “[Parade organizers] didn’t give it to us until the morning of the parade,” he said. “There was very little time set aside for the Chicago Defender Charities or us to mention it or send out any type of notice to the press.”
The Sun-Times also reported that the video aired on local T.V. station WCIU during the parade; however, there is no evidence of this on the station’s website, and the only mention of the parade itself is from 2011.
Mark Carter, community activist and chairman of Chicago’s new Broke Party says the story doesn’t add up: “How can you tell me that the President of the United States emailed a video message to address the biggest Black parade in the country–and it got lost on its way? It’s just not possible, not with this President, and this parade….if there was a video, it would have been shown.”
Carter and members of the Broke Party had demonstrated against the President during the parade, managing to unfurl a banner right behind the live feed of Strautmanis’s interview mid-parade. Despite the fact that Carter and his fellow activists were subsequently removed from the parade by police, the incident was erased from all local media coverage.
Curiously, ABC 7’s live coverage of the parade, now available on their website, omits any footage of Obama’s fill-in Strautmanis–who was deemed the “leader” of the parade in Obama’s absence–as he passed through the media zone, which occurred at the exact time the Broke Party unfurled their banner behind him. No footage of parade leader Strautmanis, coincidentally, means no footage of the anti-Obama protest.
Above all, community members are questioning why President Obama, in town for other reasons, would skip out on the parade, especially at a time when the African-American community in Chicago is facing one of its most violent summers ever. According to the president’s official schedule, Obama’s Saturday was wide open save for his flight to Chicago in the early afternoon.
It is clear that the President sent the video massage in order to calm any backlash for snubbing the parade–but who dropped the ball and why?
ABC 7 News now also claims as of Tuesday, “The message was supposed to air during ABC7’s coverage of the Bud Billiken Parade last Saturday, but the producer of the parade provided a copy of the message too late for the broadcast.”
So why did the Chicago Defender Charities not get the video from Obama’s staff until 3 a.m. central the night before the parade? What took so long for ABC to mention the video (a whole day after the Sun-Times reported the story)? And with local pressure for President Obama to address the violence situation in Chicago from activists, local press, and a community in dire want and need of leadership from their president to address the violence, why did the story about the video remain untold for two whole days, until the Chicago Sun-Times published it at 8pm Monday evening?