Funk Parade aims to bring together D.C.’s diverse community

The D.C. Funk Parade will include a day fair, a \'participatory parade\' and live music on May 3. (Courtesy Donald Ely/Funk Parade)

WASHINGTON — Prepare for the District to get a little bit funky this weekend — or a lot funky, if Justin Rood and Chris Nauom have their way.

They are the founders of D.C.’s first Funk Parade, which will be held May 3 in the U Street corridor.

But don’t expect to see a traditional parade, with a crowd cheering on decorated floats full of waving local celebrities. This parade will be anything but traditional.

“This is a parade to be a part of, not a parade to watch,” Rood says. “I think everybody can have a chance to join in and bang on a pot or a pan, play a horn, clap your hands — you know, however the spirit moves you. We don’t discourage watching; we just encourage participating.”

The idea for the “participatory parade” came to Rood in a dream — no joke.

“I woke up and realized [a funk parade] brought together a spirit of music that connected all parts of an incredibly diverse neighborhood,” says Rood, who works as an investigator and has lived in the District for almost four decades.

And that’s exactly why he decided to start the parade: to bring together his rapidly changing community, the U Street corridor.

“I’ve never seen the city undergo as dramatic and rapid a change as it has in the last few years, and nowhere is that more evident than the U Street neighborhood. It’s become one of the most economically, ethnically and culturally diverse places in the city,” Rood says.

He acknowledges that all of the changes also have brought tension and concerns. He’s hoping the parade will help break down any residual hesitations or opposition.

“We want to see an event that brings people together, that gives people a chance to meet each other, to celebrate this, what we call, the spirit of funk, which is what you find in forms of music all over the world and also the music you find all over the U Street neighborhood,” Rood says.

“It’s one of the most culturally vibrant places, and it should be a place of getting together and celebrating everything that we have. There’s a reason you move to U Street. There’s a reason you live in that neighborhood. You want the vibrancy; you want that feeling of being alive and living in the city.”

The parade will begin at 5 p.m. Saturday at Vermont and U Streets NW, but the day’s festivities begin at noon with a day fair and go well into the night with free live music at 11 of the neighborhood’s venues.

Funk Parade co-founder Nauom says the day fair will have “activated spaces” along the U Street corridor where different businesses will offer “funk activities” throughout the day, including funk brunches and funk-infused flea markets.

“There are a number of parking lots and open public spaces where there will be dance, music and live art,” Nauom says.

They’ll have a dedicated family area at 11th and U Streets, and Affinity Labs (920 U St.) will host a Tech Embassy.

After the parade, venues, such as U Street Music Hall, DC9, Tropicalia and Busboys and Poets, will open their doors for free concerts from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

“We’re starting to build a vibrant creative cultural community in the city, and the best way to celebrate is to get people together and get people in the same place with these musicians, celebrating, seeing how amazing these artists are and appreciating the work that they do,” says Nauom, an attorney for a small telecom company.

For the day of funk, Rood and Nauom partnered with a variety of local supporters — from restaurants and businesses to council members and government organizations.

And while this year’s inaugural celebration has yet to take flight, Rood and Nauom are “beginning to dream about next year.”

“What we want is for people to come and be a part of this and share the experience, not simply come and stand and watch somebody else do something cool,” Rood says. “Come and do something yourself. Make it amazing.”

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