Myiti Sengstacke-Rice is President of the Chicago Defender Charities, which produces the annual Bud Billiken Parade, which will take place this Saturday, August 11 along its traditional route on King Drive in Chicago.
Also an author, Myiti’s book, Chicago Defender (Images of America) by Arcadia Publishing, details the Defender’s sweeping imprint on 20th Century African-American culture and American history.
Sengstacke-Rice cultivated her own career in history, media and print by becoming the founding editor-in-chief of the award winning Uptown Magazine out of New York City in 2003. She later returned to Chicago to help organize her family archives along with the University of Chicago’s Mapping The Stacks archival team.
Prior to becoming President and CEO of Chicago Defender Charities, she taught Africana Studies and Literature at Kennedy King College. As a professor, she continues to guest lecture on the college circuit, which gives her a platform to share her family’s critical contribution to the history of media, culture, and politics, and explain how it connects to American and African-American history and literature.
N’DIGO recently sat with Sengstacke-Rice to discuss her legendary family and what excited parade goers can expect from the upcoming Bud Billiken Parade.
N’DIGO: Growing up in the legendary Sengstacke family, did you know immediately that you wanted to pursue the media business or did you at first dream of doing something else? If so, what did you initially want to do?
Myiti Sengstacke-Rice: My father always said I was going to be a writer one day. In my twenties I went to New York with only $15,000 and a dream to start a magazine. Six months after my move, I became the founding editor-in-chief of Uptown Magazine. I believe that publishing is in my blood. I grew up in a home where my parents had great respect for art and literature. My first dream was to become a writer. I love learning and everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve kept an extensive library.
What does it mean to you to take the reins and carry on the legacy of the Sengstacke family?
Carrying on the Sengstacke publishing and charitable legacy as the fourth generation in leadership is an honor. I consider it my assignment. I believe God gives all of us assignments and it is a blessing in life once you discover what that is. What I know for sure is that everything I have done in my career, my life experiences and education, has prepared me for the role that I am in at this time.
My grandfather, John H. Sengstacke, founded the Chicago Defender Charities in 1945. He instilled in our family a strong sense of do-for-self. I’ve been going to the Bud Billiken Parade since I was in my mother’s womb. I’m deeply aware of the importance of what it means to take the reins of my family’s legacy. I have an obligation to ensure to the best of my ability that the community my family loved and fought so hard to serve continues to grow and flourish. It’s important to me to leave an opportunity for future generations.
What are some of your duties as the President of the Chicago Defender Charities?
I get the opportunity to be the visionary, leader and negotiator. What I love most about what I do is connecting with people from all backgrounds and cultures. My greatest joy is being in a position to work with and support our youth who work so hard year round for their education and to showcase their talents on Bud Billiken Day.
What, if any, changes and/or improvements can people look forward to with this year’s Bud Billiken Parade?
We’re excited about the changes to this year’s parade. Our theme is “Back to School, Back to Work, Back to Life, and Back to Bud.” One of the changes I made was the festival we are having this year in Washington Park after the parade. It used to be a picnic.
Our sponsors, participants and attendees will meet us in the park after the parade for children’s activities like face painting and games. Post-parade festivities will also feature “Legacy Pavilions” – Health and Wellness, Education, Mini-Hiring Fairs and Children’s Pavilions.
Partners will be providing on-site services, products, school supplies, blood pressure checks, nutrition and fitness activities, Zumba in the Park, etc. “Back to Bud” will include ’80’s and ’90’s music in the park with DJs Phantom, Sundance, Emmanuel, Roc, Titan, and others. Also we will have game trucks, food trucks and other food providers.
Can you talk about the importance of mentoring our youth?
I can’t overstate the importance of mentoring our youth. I know first hand the benefits I’ve gained, personally and professionally, from people who took the time to guide and help to enlighten me when I was unsure of my direction.
I also believe that in mentoring someone, the greatest gift you can give them is an understanding of the strength that dwells within them. If a person doesn’t have the ability to have faith and believe in their God-given ability to succeed, it’s difficult for seeds of wisdom to take hold and develop.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
As a child, I used to go through the dictionary to learn new words. In middle school, I would get in trouble for reading novels in the classroom.
Best advice to young people?
“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” – Albert Einstein. Success will come with being a value through your God-given talents. Work hard for your own benefit and not to compete with or please others. At the end of the day, all that really matters is you have done your best.
Favorite quote or affirmation?
My favorite affirmation is by Robert Sengstacke Abbott, my great-grand-uncle and founder of the Chicago Defender newspaper and the Bud Billiken Parade. He said, “No greater glory, no greater honor, is the lot of man departing than a feeling possessed deep in his heart that the world is a better place for his having lived.”
What’s next for Myiti Sengstacke-Rice?
I published a book about the Chicago Defender in 2012. I have another book deal to publish about Bud Billiken in 2019. Also, the 90th anniversary of the Bud Billiken Parade is next year. I am pursuing my doctorate degree in Non-Profit Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship and am slated to complete that by 2020. All of these pursuits require the sacrifice of hard work and long hours, but I love what I do – all to be of service to my community and especially our youth. I call it my assignment.
(The 89th annual Bud Billiken Parade will take place on Saturday August 11th with actor/comedian Deon Cole (Black-ish, Angie Tribeca, Conan, Grown-ish) taking on Grand Marshal duties, along with a host of Honorary Marshals, including Chicago music legend George Daniels (George’s Music Room), actor Jason Mitchell (Showtime’s The Chi), and Dr. Andrea Evans. For more information, visit www.budbillikenparade.org.)