A scene from the 2020 Black Joy Parade in downtown Oakland, which happened in February shortly before COVID-19 shut down in-person events. Credit: Lili Lathan

The fifth annual Black Joy Parade is returning to Oakland this month in its original form—as an in-person promenade through the streets of downtown Oakland. The free, family-friendly event will take place on Sunday, Feb. 27. 

What started as a single-day event in 2018—the inaugural parade featured the Oakland Black Cowboy Association, luxury cars, and community groups from across the Bay Area—has since grown to become a month-long celebration of Black businesses, artists, and others helping to define “Black joy” in Oakland, culminating in a parade and outdoor street festival. 

“We are so excited to host The Black Joy Parade in person again. We can’t wait for the community to see what we have created to celebrate us,” said Elisha Greenwell, Oakland resident and founder of Black Joy Parade, in the nonprofit’s press release. “It’s going to feel like the largest family reunion ever.” 

The last time the Black Joy Parade was held in person was February 2020, just two weeks shy of the pandemic shutdown. That year’s event featured 7,500 parade participants and drew over 25,000 attendees to downtown Oakland for a day of performances and food, according to organizers.

Before the pandemic, the 2020 Black Joy Parade and festival drew thousands of people to downtown Oakland. Credit: Adrian Bello

The event went online in 2021 with a physical activity-themed program called “The Joy of Movements.” The virtual lineup included yoga classes led by Black to Yoga, African dance classes taught by All-Star Dance, live-streamed capoeira with Axe Oakland, and a treasure hunt exploring Black-owned art galleries and historical sites. 

With the pandemic raging throughout most of 2020 and 2021, Black Joy Parade organizers found other ways to partner with and celebrate Black-owned businesses, and support local artists. In November 2020, the organization partnered with Fruitvale-based Ale Industries to release “Family Affair,” a limited-edition beer featuring can-art by local muralist Timothy B. Also that year, “Artist Lift Off,” was launched to help artists financially impacted by the pandemic digitize their work and create merchandise, such as tote bags and t-shirts, to sell during the holiday season. 

In 2021, organizers introduced a children’s activity book called “Color Your Joy,” which was initially sold at Marcus Books. A digital version is currently available for download. That same year for Juneteenth, the group introduced StoryWindows, a public art installation showcasing the work of Bay Area artists in storefronts throughout downtown Oakland, highlighting Black-led organizations. 

Above: Images from the last in-person Black Joy Parade in February 2020. (Courtesy of Black Joy Parade)

In the days leading up to this year’s parade, Black Joy Parade organizers have continued the tradition of partnering with local businesses and organizations. “Black Joy on Wheels,” an eight-mile community bike ride through the city, beginning and ending at City Slicker Farms in West Oakland, kicked off Black History Month.

This year’s Black Joy Parade sponsors include some big names, including the Golden State Warriors, Hennessy, Lyft, and Lululemon. But that doesn’t mean local businesses were excluded from honoring the Black community—vendors hosting booths this year include The Black Femme Project, the performance-art collaborative Moving Ground, and Get Some Joy, a literary therapy group.

Earlier this month on Feb. 14, the local event-production group Gold Beams hosted an open mic and rap cypher offering a cash prize and the opportunity to perform on this year’s main stage. The winner, poet Michael Wayne Turner III, also took home $1000 and two tickets to a Golden State Warriors game. The second and third place winners received cash prizes too, but won’t perform on Sunday. 

Three local restaurants, alaMar Kitchen, Oeste, and Kingston 11, will open parade weekend with Black Joy Brunches on Saturday, Feb. 26. Each establishment will feature its own menu, and reservations are required. The brunch at alaMar Kitchen will be hosted by KMEL’s DC is Chillin

After the parade, a “Best in Flow” competition will be held with judges voting on the year’s best floats, costumes, and performances. Winners in several categories will each be awarded a $2,500 prize. Earlier this month, AfroComicCon and Oakland Style Lab hosted “Superheros Look Like Me” costume-making workshops and giveaways, and some of those costumes are sure to be featured at this year’s parade.

Three community leaders and activists will also be honored Sunday as part of BJP’s “Icons Among Us” initiative. Added to the festivities in 2021, Icons Among Us recognizes community-service efforts by members of non-profit organizations who have contributed for seven years or more to the growth of the Black community. Nominees were accepted from throughout the Bay Area. The three winning leaders will have $5,000 contributed to an organization of their choice.

Event organizers are expecting a large crowd on Sunday. Although Alameda County does not currently have a mask mandate, the county health department recommends that unvaccinated and not-fully vaccinated people “wear a mask in outdoor crowded settings … when you are around people who may be unvaccinated, elderly, or immunocompromised. To protect everyone, wear a mask to help slow the spread of the virus.”

The parade will begin at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday at 14th Street and proceed along Broadway, finishing at the main stage and vendor area on 20th Street. The parade route is accessible to both 12th Street BART and 19th Street BART stations. The festival will end at 7 p.m. For more information visit Black Joy Parade’s Instagram page or website

Brandy Collins is a writer and public services advocate, born and raised in the Bay Area. She is a 2019-2020 cohort graduate from the Maynard Institute for Journalism, a correspondent for Oakland Voices, a blogger, and the funny one in numerous group chats. She is concerned with civic engagement and leadership development toward making public works more efficient for the people. Brandy is full of Scorpio magic and a self-proclaimed Professional Aunty. Follow her on Twitter @MsBrandyCollins or Instagram @story_soul_collecter.