By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
ATLANTIC CITY — Officials and special guests helped residents and tourists bring in the holiday season on Saturday with the annual Atlantic City Winter Wonderland Parade, led by award-winning actor Kelsey Grammer as the grand marshal and Mayor Marty Small Sr.
The annual parade kicked off at Pop Lloyd Field, through the community to Atlantic Avenue and ended at Center City Park across from City Hall. Local celebrity Michelle Tomko acted as emcee to get everyone in the festive spirit.
Grammer, who gained fame with the character Frasier on “Cheers” before it became its own spinoff hit, waved to fans and parade attendees in a convertible as one of the lead vehicles in the parade.
The parade is part of the official opening weekend kickoff of the Atlantic City Tinseltown Experience that will run through the Christmas season.
“It took a lot of hard work, dedication and commitment,” said Sheila Harvey, with the City of Atlantic City’s Division of Special Events, who oversaw the parade.
“It was a lot involved. We worked with a lot of entities, like AC Tinseltown and Phyllis Lacca. If you can put a smile on just one face, it makes all the difference in the world. That’s what I think we accomplished today,” she added.
Various groups and city organizations marched in the parade as onlookers waved on.
The parade was highlighted by a high-energy show by the Malcolm X Shabazz High School marching band out of Newark.
Band director Rasheed Sheffield said he knows the Smalls personally and the band has been to the Christmas parade for several years.
Sheffield said while it is always a challenge to get youth to participate in positive programs like this, he has been able to make it work at Malcolm X Shabazz.
“I keep them engaged with a lot of performances and positive energy letting them experience their talent,” he said. “I’m an alum of this program. We are big in keeping the tradition going. Yes, it can be very hard to attract kids these days but we keep them engaged and I think you have to get them to trust and believe in the program to make it work.”
The parade closed out with the arrival of Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus, aka, Leroy Roberts and Kadijah Nesbitt, respectively, on an Atlantic City fire truck. When he’s not on his sleigh, Roberts is a mailroom supervisor in City Hall of Atlantic City, and Nesbitt is at the front desk in Atlantic City’s Public Safety Building.
“I was Santa Claus last year as well and I love mingling with the children to bring some sunshine to their faces,” Roberts said.
Nesbitt said playing Mrs. Claus and seeing all the families in the Christmas spirit had a special meaning for her.
“I’m from Atlantic City and there’s been a lot of crime,” she said. “My family has endured a lot, so just being here did a lot for me and my spirit because I hadn’t had holiday spirit in a long time. This was very good for me.”
Nesbitt said a foot injury kept her from passing the physical test to become a member of the Atlantic City Fire Department, so riding on the fire truck was also a special gift. As far as pursuing the test again, Nesbitt shared her determined spirit as well.
“Oh, I’m not quitting,” she said. “I’m going to take it again and I will pass.”
Small, who took part in the parade with his wife, Atlantic City Schools Superintendent La’Quetta Small, said he plans on the event being even better next year.
“It’s another great day in Atlantic City and Special Events did a great job,” Small told Front Runner New Jersey.com. “But mark my words: next year will be the biggest parade in the history of Atlantic City Christmas parades and the biggest since Miss America.”
Harvey said she hopes the parade was not only a good kickoff to the holiday season, but lifted the spirits of locals and tourists alike.
“We wanted to show everyone outside of Atlantic City that we are doing a lot of great things here. There are a lot of things you can do here with your family and friends. That’s what we wanted to do. We love parades and community events. The mayor said he wants to see more community events and that’s why the parade’s route was through the community.”
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