The village of Oak Park will not be hosting its annual Fourth of July parade for the second year in a row. The parade was called off last year due to COVID-19. Despite the state being reopened, a lack of preparedness due to the uncertainty of the pandemic has similarly caused this year’s parade to not go forward as well.
“Nobody had a crystal ball,” said Village President Vicki Scaman.
Planning for the parade usually begins in January. Last January, no one could pinpoint when the state would allow large gatherings to resume and the vaccination effort was still in its early stages.
The Community Relations Commission (CRC) typically handles the planning alongside the village’s Community Relations Department. In July of last year, six out of seven commissioners resigned, leaving Glenn Brewer the CRC’s sole member. Had the CRC been fully manned, planning would have still been difficult as most commissions were not meeting due to COVID-19.
Only two members of village staff comprise the Community Relations Department, Scaman said. A large-scale event such as an Independence Day celebration would be difficult enough for two people to plan, the village president believes, even if the department had not been busy with COVID-19 response.
“They had a lot going on,” she said.
The Community Relations Department has been creating COVID-19 awareness educational tools, Scaman noted, including a playlist of YouTube videos ranging in topics from the importance of masks to the vaccination clinics led by the village’s health department.
Multiple groups, many with young members, also have participated in the parade in previous years, including the Percy Julian Middle School Marching Band. Schools were primarily remote this past school year, giving the young musicians little to no opportunity for practicing a parade routine.
“To ask them to plan for participating in the Fourth of July parade when they weren’t meeting all year — that’s a lot,” said Scaman.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) only authorized the vaccination of 12-year-olds in May, but parade attendance is largely made up of young children and their parents. While adults can easily get the COVID-19 vaccination, kids under age 12 cannot.
“It’s those young people who are going to be shoulder-to-shoulder watching the parade,” said Scaman.
With 40 percent of Oak Park’s population still unvaccinated, the village president noted that many residents who live along the parade route might not feel comfortable having people congregate outside their homes and along nearby sidewalks.
Oak Park won’t have a fireworks display either this year. Fireworks are paid for by community sponsors, not the village of Oak Park. Community Bank, now Byline, and Wednesday Journal contributed to the displays in previous years. Byline Bank representatives did not respond to Wednesday Journal’s request for comment.
“We have sponsors who are willing to step up next year, but we didn’t have one in place for this year,” said Scaman.
Next year, Oak Park can expect the return of the parade as well as fireworks, according to Scaman, who added that Juneteenth will receive the same amount of village attention and funding as Independence Day.
“We put in the same amount of money and we will continue to put at least the same amount of money into Juneteenth, recognizing that people have different days of celebration of freedom.”