Freddy Fixer Weekend Takes Shape

Lucy Gellman | April 4th, 2024

Freddy Fixer Weekend Takes Shape

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

FreddyFixer2023 - 16

Abiba Biao File Photo.

A star-studded gala celebrating New Haven’s unsung heroes. A day-long arts festival that will have the neighborhood on its feet, and maybe even singing along. And a parade that pays homage to Dixwell Avenue’s historic Black roots, one drumline, step team, balloon-decked float and motorcycle at a time. 

Those moments—and many more—are the backbone of this year’s Elm City Freddy Fixer Parade, scheduled for a full weekend of events May 31 to June 2. Beginning with a gala at the Canal Dock Boathouse, the historic celebration includes a Dixwell neighborhood festival on Saturday and parade and afterparty on Sunday, each packed with their own cultural flair.

For organizers Diane Brown and Petisia Adger it’s what the Freddy has always been about. It’s also a fond and final farewell: the two plan to step down after this year’s celebration.

“As a child coming up, Freddy Fixer was always the first major big event in the Black community,” Brown said in a Zoom interview earlier this week. “That was the thing that kicked off the summer. You got to see people you hadn’t seen all winter, people were in from out of town. It’s like a big reunion, where people can get together and reconnect. ”

This year, that means throwing a good party—and fêting community heroes who don’t always get their proper due. As the two started planning, they brought in Rashad Johnson and Aaron Rodgers of The Breed Entertainment, with whom Brown worked on the city’s Black Wall Street celebration last summer. They booked the Canal Dock Boathouse, itself the site of Black New Haven history. They lined up parade marshals Hank Bolden, Jesse Hameen, and James '”Dinky” Johnson, all part of the city’s rich and often forgotten jazz history. 

FreddyFixer2023 - 9

Lucy Gellman File Photo.

Then they turned their attention to New Haven artists, educators, public officials and peacekeepers who help the city tick, often from behind the scenes. The result was a lineup of gala honorees steeped in Black excellence: educator Mia Edmonds-Duff, arts organizer and literary luminary Shamain McAllister, former mayoral hopeful and neighborhood champion Shafiq Abdussabur, Gorilla Lemonade’s Kristen Threatt and and Brian Burkett Thompson, Trachouse owner Renee Brown, and Jazzy’s Cabaret’s Jason Watts.

Rogers and Johnson will also receive special recognition for their work, which has spanned Grammy-nominated music production to the city’s Black Wall Street celebration. To start a dialogue around reentry and the injustice of incarceration, Brown and Adger are also honoring Ray Boyd and William “Juneboy” Outlaw, both of whom are now published authors.Organizers also have some surprises up their sleeves, including several awards for people who have been participating in the parade for years. Those names will remain secret until the night of the gala. 

“These are people who are born and raised in New Haven,” Brown said of awardees and longtime supporters of the parade alike. “They grew up in New Haven, went to Freddy Fixer, and have all this knowledge. They’re walking history books. It’s about making an opportunity for them to network, have conversations, for the younger generations to connect with elders.”

“We have living legends among us in New Haven,” Adger chimed in. “They aren’t always recognized—our younger generations really don’t know about them. But they’re our everyday heroes.”   

Freddy - 26

Lucy Gellman File Photo.

The festivities will continue Saturday with the now-signature Dixwell neighborhood festival, a collaboration with the International Festival of Arts & Ideas and the Stetson Branch of the New Haven Free Public Library. Building off the hope for more intergenerational dialogue, the event will feature decades of New Haven music history, from beloved drummer Michael Mills and headliner Ricky Alan Draughn to Manny James and his students from Creative Hearts, Inc.

Both Mills and James have become fixtures at the festival, representing several generations of New Haven musicians between them. Beyond the stage, Brown said, attendees can expect almost 50 vendors, line dancing and hula, food trucks, and a fashion show from designer Donald Carter, who this year is also serving as the festival’s artistic director. Like last summer, the festivities will unfold beside the Dixwell Avenue Q House. 

For Brown, it’s more than just a sun-soaked neighborhood event: it marks the unofficial start of summer, giving neighbors the chance to reconnect after months spent swaddled in sweaters and raincoats, or ducking under umbrellas during a particularly wet spring. In a phone call Thursday afternoon, collaborators from the International Festival of Arts & Ideas said they are equally honored and excited to participate in the weekend.

“There's a quilt, right?” said Sha McAllister, associate director of education and community impact at the Festival, pointing to Dixwell’s rich and storied Black past. “And when that quilt is sewn, when that final stitch is sewn in, then it's done. To be woven into that fabric and that history, it's an honor.” 

“It's not about stewarding,” added Executive Director Shelley Quiala, marveling at how the neighborhood partnerships have grown in the past decade. “It is about giving but it mostly is about receiving.”

DixwellFest2023 - 12

Designer Donald Carter at last year's Dixwell Neighborhood Festival. Lucy Gellman File Photo.

All of that programming will lay the groundwork for the June 2 parade. On Sunday afternoon, the parade will step off from Dixwell Avenue and Bassett Street, where Visels Pharmacy stands beside a historic Newhallville neighborhood marker. To the rumble of drums and purr of a half dozen motorcycle clubs, hundreds of participants will make their way towards Lake Place. Adger expects that there will be thousands more cheering them on. 

Two months out, she and Brown are cautiously optimistic. Thanks to a grant from the Mellon Foundation that came through last year, the parade has more support for its $100,000 price tag than it has in leaner years. By the beginning of this month, the two had also received applications from a dozen marching units across New Haven and Connecticut, as well as New York and Baltimore.

In a throwback to last year, Mayor Toni Harp, New Haven Fire Captain Samod ​“Nuke” Rankins, Cultural Affairs Director Adriane Jefferson, and Hamden Registrar of Voters Lushonda Howard will return as judges. Jessica Carl and Majesty will return as mistress and master of ceremonies.

As they build momentum, Brown and fellow parade coordinator Jacqueline Glover are still looking for volunteers, for which they have put out a call and are holding monthly organizing meetings (the next organizing meeting will take place April 24 on Zoom). At a meeting in late March, only a handful of attendees showed up. Brown said she’s hopeful for more support as parade day draws near.

“The parade showcases the knowledge and the talents that we actually have in our community, that are understated and never brought to the front,” Adger said, joining the pitch for volunteers. “That’s a big thing with this parade, that we can show that. “

The weekend comes at a time when both the parade and Dixwell Avenue itself are changing. At Foote Street, ConnCORP has begun renovation on Dixwell Plaza, where a mixed-use development will ultimately stand across from the new Stetson Branch Library. In the absence of the city’s historic Elks Club, which for decades stood beside Dixwell Plaza on Webster Street, the afterparty will move from Dixwell to Jazzy’s Cabaret Downtown.

Up and down the avenue, Adger has also seen new businesses move in, and is hopeful that they will usher in a new chapter of economic development that harkens back to Dixwell Avenue’s roots. For decades, it was a self-sustaining Black business district. Now she sees Black business owners returning to the neighborhood.

“It’s almost like we are rejuvenating the avenue the way that we knew it was before, when everything we needed was on that street,” she said. “I think we’re seeing a renovation of that type of atmosphere that we had so many years ago, when our ancestors came here from the South.”

As the neighborhood continues to change, Brown added, it’s time to hand the parade off to a new generation of Dixwell boosters. Since 2015, she and Adger have been working together on the Freddy with a rotating cast of characters, trying to hold fast to its roots in community connection and neighborhood revitalization. They never intended to stay in their roles this long, she said.

While they hope to honor the legacy of Dr. Frederick F. Smith, Edna Carnegie-Baker, and Dr. Charles Twyman for years to come, their retirement from the parade is for real this time, she added.

“It’s kind of like a separation or a divorce,” she said. “It’s like, you still love the person, but it’s time to go. We’ve gotta go our separate ways, but I don’t wish you no bad luck, you know? And you don’t wish me any. I couldn’t have picked a better person to be in this parade with. It’s bittersweet for Petisia and I both, but you gotta know when to walk away.”

If you are interested in volunteering at the Elm City Freddy Fixer Parade, contact Parade Coordinator Diane Brown at or 203.206.3849 or To register for the parade, click here.