CHICAGO (CBS) — Thousands of people lined King Drive from 35th Street to Washington Park for the annual Bud Billiken Parade on Saturday.

WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports, for 84 years, since its founding by legendary Chicago Defender publisher Robert Abbott, the Bud Billiken Parade has sent Chicago’s inner-city youngsters a strong “back to school” message. Urban entrepreneur Rick Montgomery said it gave him the push he needed to stay in class.

“A lot of (the children) don’t get an opportunity to see the newscasters, the sports guys and the professionals and para-professionals in the communities that they live in, so when an event like this comes along, they get to see some of the future that’s out there for them,” Montgomery said.

This year’s parade included a bit of controversy.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s office sent a letter to front office non-union employees, strongly urging them to attend the parade. Some workers viewed it as an order to participate, though the district said the letter was misinterpreted, and workers were not being forced to attend the parade.

About 300 CPS workers marched in the parade. CPS has a long-standing partnership with the parade, which is used to kick off back-to-school events ahead of the start of the school year. The first day of classes for CPS is Aug. 26 this year.

The parade is a South Side tradition, with many people coming out hours early to reserve spots along the parade route.

Family, fraternity, and sorority picnics also dot the lawns along the way, and fill Washington Park at the southern end of the parade route.

However, Marlon McKnight said the traditional back-to-school theme is suffering.

“It’s not situated like it normally is, you know what I mean?” he said. “They had it better put it together. … It’s different organizers, or something. Something’s not clicking right, you know what I mean? It used to be on point, but it’s nothing like that no more.”

Organizers said they expected 900,000 to 1 million people to attend the parade, which started at 10 a.m. at Oakwood Boulevard and King Drive, and headed south along King to Washington Park, at 51st Street, and into the park to Garfield Boulevard.

Festivities typically last for about five hours.

Many organizations give away back-to-school items during the parade, to help students get the year off to a good start.

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