“I’ve been coming to the May Day Parade since I was 8 years old,” radio personality BJ Holiday, known to listeners as “BJ The DJ,” was eager to share his personal parade history to parade co-host Gary Boyd when the Majic 103.7 car rode past the judges’ station at the 109th Annual Annie Malone Parade downtown on Sunday afternoon.
As a small child, he was a spectator. Decades later, he stood front and center as a St. Louis celebrity representing iHeart Media. He couldn’t say much, because he had to keep moving for the sake of the next participant. But he managed to let guests know how much he loves coming every year and that it’s a tradition that should continue for generations to come.
“This is our parade,” BJ said.
Next year will mark the second decade of the second century that Annie Malone Children and Family Services Center has been consecutively producing the parade as a fundraiser for the organization named in honor of its wealthy early benefactor. As the second largest annual historically black parade, BJ’s sentiments were echoed as people made stops to speak to the crowd as they danced and partied down Market.
But there was one special invited guest to Sunday’s parade who had no idea of its prominence and cultural significance in the region. The 109th parade was the introduction of the Annie Malone Parade to Sasha Turnbo. She is Annie Malone’s great-great niece, though everyone in her family refers to Malone as “Granny.”
According to Gary Boyd, chair of the Annie Malone Weekend festivities and co-host of the 109th parade, the Turnbo/Malone family thought that St. Louis had “a little parade in memory of her” and that was it.
“Pat Washington (Annie Malone’s vice president of Development and External Affairs) reached out to invite her,” Boyd said. “The family had no idea of the scale of the parade.”
Turnbo sat in the station with Grand Marshal Orvin T. Kimbrough, Merdean Gales and other dignitaries with a permanent smile on her face. “She was blown away,” Boyd said. He got a kick out of showing her how much St. Louis loved her “Granny.”
“You know how it is with younger generations, as time goes on people stop coming,” Boyd said. “So, by the time it got to Sasha’s generation, she and the young folks who are related to Annie Malone just didn’t know this was happening like this.”
Turnbo, who works in the fashion industry in New York, was noticeably in awe for the entire three hours that the parade was underway. Guests were probably wondering who she was amongst the regular attendees perched above the parade route as she smiled and waved to participants who gave every ounce of themselves for the entire mile-and-a-half route.
When the parade was over, Turnbo was invited to address the crowd.
“My family had no idea that you were remembering our granny like this in St. Louis,” Turnbo said. “We really didn’t know y’all were doing it like this! This is amazing.”
Boyd said that Turnbo was so excited about what she saw last Sunday in honor of her cherished great-great aunt, that not only are several more family members making provisions to attend, but they will be planning a family reunion in St. Louis around the parade and be a part of it in the near future.
Boyd hopes that black St. Louis as a whole – and elected officials – will join them as they create a renewed connection with their ancestor by way of the parade.
“It’s one thing to have people show up when things are bad, but our young people need to see everyone when things are going good to tell them they are doing a good job,” Boyd said.
“People tend to forget that they plan all year for this one special moment – picking the outfits, rehearsing routines … all of it. We want to see everybody encouraging those who are working hard and doing right.”