BY RODOLFO ROMAN
Special to the Miami Herald
For the past three years, FAMU student Nery Amaya has driven from Tallahassee to North Miami for the Thanksgiving holiday for more than a family visit: He comes to see his alma mater’s marching band strut its stuff at the city’s WinterNational Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“I came back to give back and show them my love,” said Amaya, 21, a former member of North Miami High’s Pioneer marching band who now plays the tuba for FAMU’s Marching 100.
On Thanksgiving Day, Amaya stood beside his former marching band as he listened to them warm up before the Pioneers hit the streets of North Miami at the 35th annual parade.
Several floats, horses, honking fire trucks, public officials and local sports mascots paraded down North Miami’s downtown corridor. The parade headed down Northeast 125th Street from Fourth to 12th avenues.
A crowd of about 7,000 sat on beach chairs, sidewalks and parade stands as they watched clowns on roller blades, beauty queens, and, of course, Santa Claus.
Hundreds signed up to march in the parade, which also featured floats, local police units riding bikes and a contingent of motorcycles.
Miami Country Day School seventh grader Sasha Kappos, 12, stood on the sidewalk with his family near the main stage at Northeast 125th Street and Eighth Avenue.
“I look forward to the motorcycles and candy,” said Sasha, referring to several clowns on roller skates who threw candy into the crowd.
Peter Cruz brought a sporting feel to the parade as he set up a tent bright and early — to tailgate.
“It’s a small town parade that has a close attachment to local people and restaurants,” said Cruz, who also set up a domino table. “The parade is part of my family’s life.”
Despite a sluggish economy, North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre said the city found ways to keep the parade running.
“This is the biggest event that can happen during the South Florida holiday,” he said. “We were able to keep this tradition going and we will continue to do it.”
The council made the parade a priority during the budget season, said city spokeswoman Pam Solomon. Local businesses also pitched in, donating staff T-shirts and cars to drive dignitaries and beauty queens in the parade.
North Miami is known for its large Haitian community.
Organizers set up a broadcast area titled the Kreyol Korner hosted by radio personality Guylene Berry of Koze Fanm Radio 1580 AM, who announced in English and Creole.
Resident Marie Joseph enjoyed listening to music from her native Haiti.
“The Haitian music helps people enjoy themselves and makes them happy,” said Joseph who was joined by her family.
It was her fourth time attending the holiday affair. After the parade, she looked forward to a Thanksgiving feast. “We have a lot of turkey to eat today,” she said with a chuckle.
Ron Welsandt, director of marketing for the Greater North Miami Chamber of Commerce, said the parade has an economic impact.
“The parade helps bring people here,” he said. “And, hopefully they’ll come back when the stores are opened.”
The parade started in 1973 as a marching band competition, organizers said.
Welsandt said the parade is the South Florida version of the Thanksgiving Day Macy’s parade.
“It’s interesting how the culture of North Miami has changed and the parade has changed with it,” he said.
Although the parade has expanded, marching bands still compete for a prize. The WinterNational Parade committee will meet this week and choose the winning marching band.
As for Amaya, he said the parade is a great meet-up spot.
“This parade brings people who left Miami together and allows us alumni to see each other,” he said.