Freddy Fixer Charts Its Return To Dixwell Avenue

Lucy Gellman | April 6th, 2023

Freddy Fixer Charts Its Return To Dixwell Avenue

Culture & Community  |  Dixwell  |  Arts & Culture  |  Arts & Anti-racism  |  Elm City Freddy Fixer Parade

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The Elm City Freddy Fixer Parade in 2019. Lucy Gellman File Photo.

Chanelle Goldson can already hear the drumline in her head, like a heartbeat on the sun-soaked pavement. Tracey Joseph is ready for the families who come back by the generation, because it's tradition. Both can envision the marchers cuing up in their uniforms, a shock of bright color beneath the wide blue sky. 

One thing is for certain: The Freddy is coming back.

That news is came from the Elm City Freddy Fix Parade Committee this week, as President Chanelle Goldson and Vice President Tracey Joseph announced a spring of community-focused events culminating in a June 4 parade. It marks the first time since June 2019 that the parade, a celebration of sustained and sustainable Black New Haven, will return to Dixwell Avenue. This year, it also marks a leadership transition, as Goldson and Joseph work to keep the event running for years to come.    

The parade will step off on June 4 at 1:30 p.m. at the intersection of Dixwell Avenue and Bassett Street. Its will follow a May 20 neighborhood cleanup on Dixwell Avenue and a June 3 festival in collaboration with the International Festival of Arts & Ideas. Diane X. Brown, Jacqueline Glover, and Petisia M. Adger, who have kept the parade alive for the past several years, will remain on the ECFFPC’s Board of Directors. 

“We are back, and we have some great and exciting updates,” said Goldson on a recent episode of WNHH Community Radio’s “Arts Respond” program. “This year, we’re coming back even stronger than ever, and we hope that the community comes out, and they come out in large numbers. Bring your family! Call them up and say, ‘Hey, come down for this weekend!’ Because it’s not just a one-day event.”

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The Elm City Freddy Fixer Parade in 2019. Lucy Gellman File Photo.

The parade’s journey back to Dixwell Avenue, for which it is raising $100,000, has been years in the making. When Covid-19 hit New Haven in March 2020, it dealt a uniquely devastating blow to both the Freddy and to Black New Haveners, many of whom were already living in chronically underfunded and under-resourced neighborhoods. As weeks became months, the Freddy lost money. It lost volunteers. 

One year without a parade became two, and then three. The event, which grew out of a neighborhood cleanup in 1962 and an inaugural parade in 1963, struggled to find its footing once again. 

Then last year, the committee began to regroup and rebuild. In March, Brown and Adger announced that there would not be a 2022 parade, in part because of budget funds that they simply did not have, and what they said at the time was new legislation and a lack of support from the city. At the time, they also named Goldson as acting president, in a move to make the parade more sustainable going forward. 

In the year since, Goldson has reinstated monthly meetings, built a membership base, and brought in sponsors from the Mellon Foundation to the city’s Department of Arts, Culture, and Tourism. 

For both herself and Joseph, it is also a homecoming of sorts. Goldson, who is raising her two young daughters in Newhallville, grew up with the parade. As a kid, “I was a spectator,” she said, remembering how she and friends would agonize over their outfits months in advance. As a teen, she marched in the parade as a member of her high school pep squad. Years later, she returned as a volunteer and a member of the executive board.

One thing never changed: It was always the event of the season. This year, she’s also excited for her two young daughters to experience the parade. 

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The Elm City Freddy Fixer Parade in 2019. Lucy Gellman File Photo.

“It’s like looking back at myself when I see them,” she said. “They’re excited about the parade—like, ‘Are we going to the parade? Are we going to the parade?’—and that used to be me as a child. I always explain to them the importance and significance of it, and they’re right alongside me when I’m at these events.”

Joseph, meanwhile, has a family connection to the parade that runs deep. Her uncle is the late Dr. Frederick Smith, one of the co-founders of the parade. As a young child, she would travel with her family from Bridgeport to New Haven, visit her extended family in town, and stay for the parade an a family cookout that inevitably followed. As she got older, she learned the history, including her family's role in keeping the tradition alive.  

“It was almost like our Fourth of July,” she said. So when she heard that there were monthly meetings to bring the parade back, she jumped onboard to help. Before she joined organizing efforts last year, she said, she reached out for her family’s blessing. She received it in spades. 

Fred Smith, Jr., the son of the late Dr. Fred Smith, was particularly elated. In an update on Facebook, he noted how excited he was to have it coming back. 

"The success of Freddy Fixer and of many endeavors of those community leaders is that they didn’t care who got the credit, and they weren’t trying to parlay what recognition they did receive into adulation in other areas of their lives," he wrote. He recalled how much his dad loved his role as a "fixer," from decades working in medicine to trimming his own hedges at home. 

“It’s part of our legacy,” Joseph said. “And so having that uncle to look up to and say, ‘Wow, you did that,’ having not just him but the support of the community, that is where the impact is. Together, we have that sound voice as one, and we take pride in that.” 

Three months from June, the parade’s contours are coming together. On May 20, the committee will host a Dixwell neighborhood cleanup that begins at Stetson Library at 9:30 that morning. Then just over a week later, the committee will return with a health and wellness fair also at Stetson, scheduled for May 31. On Friday, June 2, the group will have a meet-and-greet and artist’s showcase, with a location to be announced. 

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Chanelle Goldson and Tracey Joseph last fall, at Stetson. Lucy Gellman File Photo.

It lays a path for the main events: the annual Dixwell Neighborhood Festival on June 3, followed by the parade on the afternoon of Sunday the 4th. While “it’s definitely a new normal,” Goldson said, she and Joseph are thrilled to be back. This year, the ECFFPC will be giving out new cash prizes in seven categories. First place winners will take home $700 and a trophy. The second-place winers will receive $300 and a certificate. “We are not the only ones feeling the negative impacts of Covid,” she said.

“The way we’re doing everything is a new norm for us, and so we’re adapting every day,” she said. “And every day it gets better. There are some struggles, but you know, we’re learning and we’re adapting. That’s the most important part—adapt with time, so that we can be sustainable.” 

Goldson added that there is still very much an invitation to the community, to both attend monthly board meetings and spearhead individual fundraising efforts that will help the parade get to its $100,000 goal.  She pointed to Stetson Branch Library, where she and Goldson recently hosted a career readiness workshop, as a particularly supportive partner in the parade’s work.

That too is a connection steeped in New Haven history: Stetson Branch Manager Diane Brown grew up with the parade as a girl, and helped run it for years. She still serves on the ECFFPC’s board of directors. 

They are quick to say that they do not do it alone—although Goldson has served as the ECFFPC’s social media manager, development director and recruitment officer all on a volunteer basis for the better part of a year. In October of 2022, the committee began holding monthly meetings at the Stetson Branch Library at 197 Dixwell Ave. They have since gone hybrid in an effort to be more accessible to the community. 

Goldson also pointed to a growing list of sponsors without whom the parade would not be possible. This year, she said, that includes the Mellon Foundation, Comcast and NBC Universal, the Connecticut Community Outreach Revitalization Program (ConnCORP), the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, National Endowment  of the Arts, Yale Office of New Haven State Affairs, New Haven Department of Arts, Culture & Tourism, the Cornell-Scott Hill Health Center, Goldson Investment Group, ‘R Kids Family Center, and individual donors.

“We’re getting there,” Goldson said. “We still have a far way to go, honestly—it’s still a struggle. You know, we just have to keep putting our best foot forward and continuing to tell our stories. There are so many people who may not know the historical and cultural significance. And so, the more people that hear about it, the more people will get involved.”

“I would add to understand as well that we’re not just about the parade, we’re about the community as a whole,” Joseph added. She pointed to a recent career readiness workshop that she and Goldson held at the Stetson Branch. “We’re going to bring more of our skill set to the community in order to empower our people and empower our community.”

To listen to the full interview on WNHH Community Radio, including a discussion on parade planning and self-care, click on or download the audio embedded above.