Beacon Journal staff writer
East Akron has celebrated Labor Day with a parade every year since 1972, but not this year, because organizers say it's gotten too big and is no longer about the neighborhood.
''It's Akron's biggest parade and it's like a city parade,'' Cazzell Smith, East Akron Community House executive director, said on Tuesday after issuing a news release announcing the cancellation.
''It's no longer a neighborhood parade. We don't have any meaningful participation from our residents anymore. They used to build floats and all that kind of stuff.''
The parade organizers, E.A.C.H. and the Council of Block Club Presidents, did not mail the customary invitations to participate in January, so nobody should show up on Monday expecting to march in a parade, Smith said.
He said it's been at least 20 years since neighbors built floats for the parade.
''About three years ago, we had our last baton and drum corps. We don't have any more of those kinds of units,'' he said.
Instead, the parade draws a lot of dance groups and some of the performances have not exactly been G-rated.
''Some of it is not the appropriate kind of dancing that we would like,'' Smith said. ''It used to be a family parade.''
Organizers want to regroup and find more ways to get East Akron residents involved in a more manageable parade with 20 to 40 units instead of 80.
''We want to take a year off and maybe have float workshops for the residents, get them more involved,'' Smith said. ''A whole lot of them watch it. Somebody might put in a car or two in there, but it's not like the floats and all that stuff. It's not the same.''
This Labor Day won't be the same for Smith, either.
''This is the first time I'm going to have a Labor Day off in 37 years,'' he said.
Meanwhile, the Arlington Church of God where the parade has begun and finished for the last several years hopes its Sixth Annual Fun Day will be the best yet, even without the parade.
This year's Fun Day offers more games, free food and gospel music every hour on the hour from bands, choirs and the church's own singers, said the Rev. Diana L. Swoope, senior pastor at Arlington.
The Fun Day begins at 11 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m. at the church, 539 S. Arlington St.
Swoope said she learned the parade was canceled in June and understands the reasoning behind the decision.
''The times have changed and it just ended up not being as much fun as it used to be. That's the most diplomatic way of saying it,'' Swoope said. ''Last year it took well over an hour for everyone to step off.''
She said the church became a focal point for the community and will be again on Monday.
''I really don't know all of the issues, but we decided that we definitely want to be there to fill the void and fill the gap for people who are so used to being together and gathering together on Labor Day,'' she said.
The event will end with something different, too: a blessing for the neighborhood's schoolchildren, who start a new year today.
''We just want to pray and inspire them to go to school and do their best,'' Swoope said. ''It's going to be like a 10-minute rally at the end just to charge our kids up.''
John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the education blog at http://education.ohio.com/.
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