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When you think of a parade, it probably looks a little something like this: gigantic balloon animals, a couple marching bands, plastic beads, handfuls of confetti, and candy raining down from the sky.
Glenn Terry had something a little less conventional in mind.
In the 1970s he formed the Mango Marching Band, a group of “non-musicians” that played conch shells and kazoos in the Goombay Festival, a Bahamian-style fest started in Coconut Grove in 1976.
After a couple fun years, Terry set his sights on something bigger: The Orange Bowl Parade. In 1981 they sent in an audition tape and were rejected. Rather than get angry, Terry decided to just create his own. The King Mango Strut Parade, celebrating all things bizarre about Miami, was born.
“I went to the Miami Police Department and I asked them what I needed to do to put on a parade,” said Terry in a phone interview. “It was all about making fun of ourselves and making fun of Miami.”
Modeled off of the Pasadena Doo Dah Parade, Terry and co-founder Bill Dobson launched the first King Mango Strut Parade in 1982, merging their love of parties, irreverent humor, and of course, mangoes. (Terry, an artist and art teacher at Winston Park K-8 Center, has been using mangoes in his own work for years, including the experimental films Mango Madness and Mango Zombies.)
“We thought we’d do it once and that would be it,” Terry said. “The first one cost $200 and we marched down to Peacock Park. The newspapers liked us and then we were kind of famous for a local event.”
Now in its 35th year, people have been “Putting the NUT in CocoNUT Grove” ever since, and there are only two rules when it comes to participating: 1) you have to spoof something that’s happened in the past year and 2) you have to attend some meetings. And while talking to Terry makes it seem like it’s all about getting some laughs, there’s more to it than “high fun on a low budget.”
In the original proposal from 1982, there’s a note on how Miami was “suffering measurably in self-image and self-esteem.”
In 1981, the infamous “Paradise Lost” cover of Time Magazine hit the stands, nine pages focused primarily on the city as a haven for drugs, crime, and violence. This was also the era of the Mariel boat lift, the Liberty City race riots and corruption within the Miami Police Department. Terry, like many Miamians, needed a reprieve, an opportunity to let loose.
Thus, the time after Christmas and before New Years became a celebration of all things bizarre and shady in South Florida. Participants from Coconut Grove and other areas of Miami created costumes, posters, and skits satirizing current events such as: “Cuban Eye for the Gringo Guy,” “Illegal Aliens Synchronized Swim Team,” “Banana Republicans,” “A Million Chad March,” and the “City of Miami’s Blind Auditors.” The parade also includes a Little Miss Mango and Little King Mango pageant (all are winners) and a Grand Marshall.
For those who grew up with the Strut, it’s an event that holds a lot of meaning.
“I love that it’s a classic Florida event with just the right amount of self deprecation,” said Miami native Roxanne Weippert. “I also like that it feels local, but it’s still fun for people not from South Florida because it’s just a good time and some of the floats touch on bigger, nation wide issues.”
But the carefree period came to an end as friction within the organization grew in the 2000s over trademarks, vision and money, marring preparations and funding for the parade. In 2009, Terry was forced out, or left, depending on who you talk to.
The King Mango Strut is by no means finished, though. Now incorporated, it’s under new leadership with Mike Lucas as president of the board.
“I started off as an act in 1997, though not a really good one,” said Lucas. “We went as ‘The Asphalt Strippers,” making fun of this company that kept putting down asphalt and then taking it off.”
In the more than three decades it’s been around, the parade has grown in scope. Where it was once a few hundred dollar affair, costs now hover between $30,000 and $35,000, according to Lucas.
Still, he insists it’s just all about getting people together to have a good time. And the Miami of 2016 has just as many problems that need some levity: corrupt politicians, sea-level rise, a lack of affordable housing.
“I enjoy getting out there and seeing everyone have a good time,” Lucas said. “This is all run by volunteers, and we put it on as a labor of love.”