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Dancers, drummers, politicians join for Roxbury Unity Parade

A little princess with the Roberto Clemente Dancers followed the older girls’ steps at the Roxbury Unity Parade.
A little princess with the Roberto Clemente Dancers followed the older girls’ steps at the Roxbury Unity Parade.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

There were more political candidates than baton twirlers or spectators as swollen, cloudy skies held back rain and a festive troupe paraded along Malcolm X Boulevard in Roxbury on Sunday.

The Roxbury Unity Parade drew US Representative Ayanna Pressley, Acting Mayor Kim Janey, and a host of mayoral and City Council candidates as a drumming, dancing, swirling, and twirling assemblage cascaded down the streets from Madison Park Vocational Technical School to Malcolm X Park a mile away.

Umbrellas and rain boots were paired with face paint as hugs, good will, and familiarity abounded. People came wearing their Sunday best, “God is Dope” T-shirts, a dashiki, a hajib, and a guayabera or two.

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Roxbury too often makes headlines for bad news, said Toy Burton, the parade’s founder and organizer.

“There is so much good, and we would like to highlight the good in Roxbury,” said Burton, her left cheek painted with “Roxbury Unity Parade” in red, black, and green.

Before the 12:10 p.m. call time for marchers to line up in formation, Four Star Dance Studio’s team practiced their turns in clear-plastic rain ponchos that topped bright-purple tank tops and black-bottomed costumes.

“Thank you for loving on Roxbury; thank you for showing up for Roxbury,” Burton told those who had gathered.

When Janey bounded by in gold Converses with lavender laces, all smiles, waves, and handshakes, a young Black boy looked up at his father and said, “That’s the mayor of Boston?”

“I am a Roxbury girl raised in rich black soil,” Janey said after being introduced as “Boston’s first Black mayor who happens to be a sister.” (”Black mayors are dope, are they not?” the master of ceremonies said.)

“We are more than a statistic,” Janey, who is running for mayor, told the scattered gathering. “Roxbury is its people. We are resilient, we are powerful, and we are organized. And this is an example of that.”

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Pressley took to the microphone amid deep hoots and hollers.

Noting the healthy turnout of political candidates, Pressley reminded the gathering that the Black community has clout, politically and economically.

“The reason everyone came here is because of our political power,” she said.

As the parade’s police escort inched toward Malcolm X Park, a man’s voice blared through a bullhorn: “When I say, ‘Roxbury,’ you say, ‘unity.’ ”

Next up were the Roberto Clemente Dancers, gold-sequined baton twirlers accompanied by a contingent of three 5-year-olds with silver pom-poms. They were followed by “Black Teachers Matter,” a single vehicle trailed by one girl representing the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.

African tribal drumming preceded a vibrant tide of dancers called Living Experience sashaying by in multi-tiered, ankle-length skirts of hot pinks, oranges, and yellows, as they performed “Power of Skirts,” choreographed and led by Isaura Oliveira of Jamaica Plain.

Exuberant and out of breath afterward, Maricelys Arroyo, 18, a Roberto Clemente dancer and student at Boston Community Leadership Academy, said her second year participating in the parade was a great experience and she was determined to twirl, rain or shine. “I loved it,” she said.

Leiya Silveira, 13, ate pink cotton candy while wearing a tiara and a white satin sash trimmed in royal blue that said, “Miss Massachusetts East Coast USA Pageant.” This was also her second year taking part in the parade.

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“It was magnificent,” said Silveira, of Hyde Park. “It was fun. It was entertaining. I enjoyed it.”

As for face painter Milly Henry, of Mattapan, she was back to do the job she loves. After an empty slate in 2020 because of COVID-19, this was her 10th party of the summer.

“I’m glad to be back on the scene,” Henry said. “I just love doing these community events ... and I just love seeing the look on the kids’ faces when I’m done. It’s a great feeling.”


Tonya Alanez can be reached at tonya.alanez@globe.com or 617-929-1579. Follow her on Twitter @talanez.