More Than a Parade

By Brad McEwen

As soon as the sun crept above the horizon, bathing downtown Albany in the cool blue and rich gold that adorned the day in all corners of the city, fans and revelers were already flooding into the 200 block of Pine, festooned with smiles and school pride, taking their place in the bleachers to celebrate this year’s Albany State University Homecoming parade.

And everywhere I turned the excitement was palpable.

It was a far cry from the scene I watched unfold in this community just a year prior—with the annual parade another victim of the devastating winds and rain brought by Hurricane Michael, which barreled through Southwest Georgia as a category 3 storm before slamming into the Albany community, leaving a swath of destruction we’re still dealing with 12 months later.

Since my days as Herald reporter, covering the downtown festivities that lead up to each year’s annual ASU homecoming game later in the day, I’ve always looked forward to the homecoming parade. And my excitement for the annual fall celebration has only intensified since coming to AB&T.

While there’s no denying this city’s annual Christmas parade is a well-planned and well-attended event this community can be proud of, let’s be real for a second—nothing tops the unbridled enthusiasm and pageantry of the “RAMily” (which in my mind does, and should, include the entire community) celebrating the university that has enriched this area for more than 116 years.

Each Homecoming parade is a celebration of not only the school, but of the things that make ASU and its Albany home such a special place. From the countless clubs, sororities, fraternities and alumni groups, to the inclusion of area public school dance teams and bands, to the local businesses and beyond, nothing seems to bring out as much joy and excitement, for such a wide group of area citizens, than the homecoming parade.

Which is why, no matter how busy things might be at the AB&T offices, members of the bank family can’t wait to participate.

And this year was no exception.

As one of the only businesses (and certainly now the only bank) whose location sits smack in the middle of the parade route, AB&T has started its own homecoming tradition—setting up a celebration station in front of our Pine location to give out refreshments, candy and other goodies to parade-goers and bonding with thousands of our friends and neighbors in the heart of the city.

Quite frankly it’s an event we look forward to each year, but this year, with the shadow of Michael still looming in the backs of our minds, there was an extra sense of excitement that the tradition was back on track.

With whispers of Michael still dancing around in my head, as I surveyed the growing crowd throughout the day—easily zeroing in on the thousands of shining faces of all ages and colors, their feelings of joy and contentment palpable—I couldn’t help but think about the “Unsinkable” slogan and badge of honor the school has worn since the Flood of 94, and get the feeling that moniker quite truly describes not just one of the country’s most important and influential HBCUs, but the larger community as a whole.

Albany State is undoubtedly unsinkable, but as we’ve had to learn repeatedly in recent years, so too is Albany, Ga.

Whether it be floods, freakish straight line winds, tornados or hurricanes, this community has proven time and again that no matter what gets thrown our way, the citizens of this area will rally together and emerge even stronger than before.

One need only look to the immediate aftermath of Michael and the two storms that brutalized the community in January of 2017 to see the evidence.

Or if you’re like me, you can go back even further to that terrible July 25 years ago when the Flint burst from its banks in what proved to the first of two monumental flooding events within five years.

Even as a junior at Westover whose residence was safely away from the worst of the 1994 flooding, I remember my dad being adamant that we go down to the civic center to fill sandbags to help stem the growing tide. And my mom loading up items to take to one of the donation sites where people who had lost everything could pick out a few articles of clothing to keep them covered until more permanent relief was in sight.

I remember the two dogs and then two entire families that sheltered with us in the mother-in-law cottage in our backyard until they could return to their homes.

After the straight line winds of January tore through my neighborhood, letting me have just a taste of what my fellow Albanians had gone through all those years ago, I was fortunate to be met with the overwhelming love and kindness of strangers who rushed into Rawson Circle with food, chainsaws and comfort.

Just days after that, I was with a group of teachers out on the edge of Dougherty County handing our sack lunches to folks still reeling from the EF2 tornado that levelled much of eastern Albany into Worth County.

So I’ve seen firsthand the love that exists throughout this community and it was that love I was pondering as I gazed upon the joyful faces laughing and talking in the bleachers as the next of several top notch marching bands strutted past in front of them along the parade route.

But as proud as I am of that love—knowing deep in every fiber of my being that the overwhelming majority of the residents in my hometown are kind, honest, loving, hardworking folks that would give the shirts of their backs—returning to downtown Albany for this year’s homecoming parade also reminded me once more how important it is for us to remember our shared connections and affections no matter the circumstances.

If there was a single sentiment that has permeated this community in the aftermath of each of the natural disasters we’ve endured in recent years, it was that regardless of the many things we choose to use to divide us, when the chips are down we will come together and rise up—quite literally pulling those less fortunate than ourselves up with us.

As a member of this community for the better part of the last 35 years, that’s a fact I’m very proud of. But I have to say that as a member of this community that has also watched as this town has allowed itself to be divided by nonsense across that same span and beyond, it’s something that has long perplexed me.

It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the notion that while it’s easy and natural to put differences aside to help someone clean storm debris out of their yards, or head into the center of destruction and pain to make sure people have basic necessities, it’s still a struggle sometimes to make it through a single governmental meeting without some old slight or buried hate bubbling up to try and tear us asunder.

For some reason, in a community that has had far too many opportunities lately to prove what’s truly in its heart, it seems far too easy for us to turn the page on that love and togetherness that marks us in times of tragedy, and return to the finger pointing and bickering that has sadly hindered Albany’s progress in recent years.

Now in subsequent weekends—first with the recent Chalkfest organized by the Albany Museum of Art and now with the return of the ASU Homecoming parade—I’ve found myself leaving two of the most entertaining and exciting events I’ve enjoyed in recent years, once again pondering that disconnect, but also believing in what could be.

In a world that seems to be growing increasingly divided and hateful as more and more perfectly fine people keep falling into the morass, and becoming a part of the mindless rabble spouting hate and vitriol from the safety of social media, I can’t help but think that we’re missing a golden opportunity to fight against that tide and show a better way to the rest of the world.

Sure Albany has a long history of racial and socio-economic divide, but it’s also a place where different races have long lived and worked side-by-side, with members of both holding positions of influence and power within the community, and working hard together to build a better future for all.

It’s a place that boasts African Americans in positions like mayor, school superintendent, chief of police, and district attorney. It’s a place where different genders and different races, serve together on school boards and county and city commissions.

It’s a place where God’s creatures, young and old, a full rainbow of humanity, gather together to work, play and pray.

It’s a place where neighbors help each other without concern for skin color or religious affiliation—a place where white folks, black folks, brown folks and all folks in between, will gladly grab their rakes and chainsaws and head into neighborhoods across the community, to lift up and restore their fellows regardless of race, gender or the other things we use as weapons to attack each other.

Albany is many, many things—some not so great, and plenty that are the things we all cherish deep in our hearts. But it’s time Albany embraced what it truly is.

A place as undaunted and as unsinkable as the university that pulls residents of all walks of life to downtown Albany each fall to celebrate another Homecoming of the students and graduates that have left a tiny southwest Georgia town and changed the world.

It’s a place where under a beautifully crisp sky of gold and azure, thousands of brothers and sisters who might look a little different than each other, put their few differences aside and embrace the many, many other things we all have in common.

While the world at large keeps trying to isolate and divide us, I think I’ll chose to remember the truth of the last two ASU homecoming parades—one that had to be skipped and one that proved a triumphant return—that have shown me that Albany is not a city of black, white or brown.

It’s a city of love where together we can accomplish anything.

Connect with Brad – 229.405.7212 - brad.mcewen@abtgold.com - @BradGMcEwen 

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