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'We have to do more to celebrate the cultures': Holiday Parade focuses on diversity

Cars passing by on East Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Pictured on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Holiday Parade will return this year for the first time since 2019. This year, the institutions organizing the event are placing emphasis on celebrating and showcasing the diversity of the community.

On Saturday, Dec. 3, attendants will be greeted with a safe and festive gathering, featuring decorated floats and marching bands. This event will see increased involvement from several local institutions. 

Prior to announcing the 2022 Community Holiday Parade, representatives from the Towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro discussed ways to better reflect the groups that make the community diverse. 

In the new application, local organizations and cultural and performance groups are urged to join in on the celebration. 

Susan Brown, executive director of Chapel Hill's Community Arts & Culture division, said she participated in the discussion.

"This event could and should better showcase the many different cultural and holiday traditions in our community," she said in a press release.

When applying to participate in the event, organizations are prompted to share their advancement of community goals, such as improving cultural and historical awareness in the area. They are also asked to share any of their diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

Rhea Khazi, a ninth-grader at Chapel Hill High School, said she walked in the 2019 holiday parade alongside her middle school band playing "Jingle Bell Rock" for parade attendees. 

While she said it was immersive and fun, Khazi noticed discrepancies between the demographics of the parade and the town it occurred in.

"All of my friends and the people I know in Chapel Hill are diverse," she said. "When I looked around, I didn't feel like the town as a whole was represented." 

She added the parade needs more clubs and organizations showing people with different traits and believes the towns could do better in showcasing different cultural groups. 

The parade's two-year pause allowed organizers to step back and evaluate how to establish new initiatives that improve the lives of citizens, according to Melissa Bartoletta, the marketing and communications coordinator for the Town of Chapel Hill.

She added that implementing diversity, equity and inclusion into Town functions is a substantial goal. 

“The planning partners are excited to bring the event back to the community,” Bartoletta said. “It's a tradition.”

Inviting local groups and involving all members of the community is a major goal of the parade. This year, she said parade planners worked with local programs in order to facilitate an event that focuses on and celebrates its community. 

“We strive to make our community events reflective of our community,” Bartoletta said. “We want to highlight a variety of art, cultural and winter holiday traditions.” 

Among the planning collaborators for the parade are Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture; Carrboro Recreation, Parks, & Cultural Resources; the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership; the Town of Chapel Hill; the Town of Carrboro and UNC campus-affiliated organizations. These organizations were also involved in the discussion about increasing diversity in the parade.

“Being able to collaborate with organizations that serve different groups of people within our community is going to help us have the event best reflect our community," Bartoletta said.

Erik Valera is the chief operating officer at El Centro Hispano, an organization that aims to strengthen the relationship between the Hispanic community and the surrounding area and to advocate for equity and inclusion.

He said that while Chapel Hill and Carrboro have not reached out to specific organizations for the parade, he would still be interested in El Centro participating. Valeria said respect is essential when having an event that is focused on diversity and amplifying all of the community.

“We have to do more to celebrate the cultures — have an appreciation for the culture and diversity of our people," he said.

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However, he added that he is unsure if a parade is the best event to showcase diverse organizations in the local community. 

"We have so many other instances in which we're trying to be visible and represented," he said. "In our mind, parades doesn't necessarily come to the top of it, but it is a grand gesture to be able to include us in something like that."

Applications to participate in the 2022 Chapel Hill-Carrboro Community Holiday Parade close on Sunday, Oct. 9. They can be accessed on the Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture website.

@DTHCityState | 

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