Diamond Tree: "It’s part of our essence. It’s a part of our soul." Lucy Gellman Photos.
For a moment, it looked as though Diamond Tree was voguing. Her hands, wrapped in soft black gloves, wove past each other and toward the high ceiling. She stepped back, and reached for a shiny black hoop leaning against the wall. To the sound of rain on the roof, she was all movement. By the end of 10 seconds, it was hard not to dance along.
She pulled out her phone, and began uploading it to TikTok.
She is not doing it alone: ECFFPC board members Diane Brown and Petisia Adger have stayed on to help, as have several new committee members who have emerged from the woodwork in the past few months. The parade is currently scheduled for June 4 of next year on Dixwell Avenue. Goldson’s pitch is simple: Get involved to give back to the community.
In addition to a clothing drive, the parade committee is hosting holiday arts and crafts with Santa at the library this Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m.
“This is our parade,” Goldson said Wednesday, to a small group that braved the rain to come out. “It’s for us, by us. It’s just something that’s been passed down from generation to generation.”
Part of ensuring that it continues is the arrival of fresh faces, she added. As the parade inches toward June 2023, Goldson has started to put the pieces into place, from MC Majesty and DJ Bink B to plans to rent a mobile stage. She has also worked to secure new funding, including a $7,000 Neighborhood Cultural Vitality Grant from the city, a $12,000 resiliency grant from the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. For the sake of full transparency, the Arts Paper is a program of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven but is editorially independent from it.
Chanelle Goldson and Tracey Joseph. Lucy Gellman Photos.
A third, still-pending grant would allow for a part-time, paid development and media assistant for two years. Goldson asked that the granting entity and amount remain unnamed until the grant comes through, which should be in the early months of next year.
She’s ready for that help, she added Wednesday. Currently, the parade committee and ECFFPC board are completely volunteer-run, which means she is running the bulk of activities, from social media to the upcoming holiday event at Stetson. In January, she’ll be launching a recruitment and membership drive. “I’m working my tail off,” she said.
Wednesday, she listened intently as Black Business Alliance (BBA) and Collaboration of Minority Women Professionals member Tracey Joseph took a seat at the conference table, and suggested networking more deeply with Black business owners, administrators, and nonprofit professionals who might not know about the parade, but would likely support it if they did. For instance, she suggested, the committee might want to reach out to Anne-Marie Knight, the executive director of the BBA.
“I’m talking about community leaders,” she said. She added that she would love to see a Freddy Fixer scholarship fund, a goal that Goldson shares.
Joseph added that the Freddy is personal for her. Born and raised in Bridgeport, she grew up coming to the parade to honor the legacy of her uncle, the late parade co-founder Dr. Frederick Smith. In 2014 or 2015, her aunt, the late Barbara Rice Roman, was honored by the ECFFPC during the parade. After hearing about the committee meetings from a cousin, she drove to New Haven to sit in on it. While she now lives in West Haven, she sees the committee as part of her family’s New Haven roots.
“It was beautiful, to see us gathered and supporting ourselves, and celebrating ourselves, and seeing what he [Smith] wanted actually manifest is a beautiful thing,” she said. “I’m here to kind of make sure that it doesn’t die, and his wishes on beautifying and taking care of our community, our families stay alive.”
“I believe under the current president’s reign, we have a bright future,” she added. “Hopefully with us working together, we can grow Freddy Fixer into what my uncle would have wanted.”
Lucy Gellman Photos.
Hood Hula Founder Diamond Tree, who also grew up coming to the parade, had a different suggestion: TikTok. After joining the platform in May and starting to share her hooping via short videos in July of this year, she sees it as a potential way to attract new business and build support online and in-person. Wednesday, she suggested using the platform—along with some old-school door knocking, flyering, and phone calls—as a way to bring in new sponsors.
She plans to reach out to sponsors one by one, and thank them with ECFFPC TikTok shoutouts if they sign up, she said. Like many of the current committee members, the parade is part of her DNA: she remembered coming as a girl, when it was the biggest event of the season. As a kid, she once skipped out on band practice so she could get dressed up and attend parade day.
As she got older, she marched in the parade as part of Nation Drill Squad & Drum Corp, and then returned for years to watch and cheer it on from the packed sidewalk. If a TikTok can help even a little, she said, she’s down to try it.
“It’s the culture of it,” she said. “The Freddy Fixer cannot die. It cannot die. It’s part of our essence. It’s a part of our soul. People don’t realize that, but the whole town has to support this parade and this organization.”
Interested in getting involved? The Elm City Freddy Fixer Parade Committee will host “Family Holiday Crafts with Santa” on Saturday, Dec. 10 at the Stetson Branch Library, 197 Dixwell Ave., from 2 to 4 p.m. More information is available here. The next committee meeting is Wednesday January 25 at 6 p.m., also at the Stetson Branch Library.