Gerald Freeny Becomes First African-American to Lead Tournament of Roses

His responsibilities include choosing the theme, the bands and the grand marshal

New Year's Day brings extravagant floats and marching bands to Pasadena's Colorado Boulevard for the vibrant and venerable Tournament of Roses Parade.

For the first time in history, an African-American man is in charge of the festivities.

Gerald Freeny rose through the ranks of hundreds of "white suit volunteers" to become the 130th president of the Tournament of Roses.

"It's an honor and a privilege to me. I try not to look at it as being the first African-American president. We have 935 volunteer members. I represent all of them, and they represent the fabric of our communities," Freeny said.

His responsibilities include choosing the theme, the bands and the grand marshal.

"Those 30-plus years that I have in this organization, I have learned to run this organization. We have 31 committees and football. I've been exposed to every one of those committees," Freeny said.

He also makes time to connect with young people. During a recent visit to his alma-mater, John Muir High School in Pasadena, he spoke about setting goals and serving communities.

Longtime residents like Helen Goodman appreciate Freeny's accomplishments.

"I knew that he was being groomed and was going to be considered. It's so encouraging to know that he's reached that position. Many years ago when my daughter was in the band, they didn't have any black women," Goodman said.

Freeny said sharing his presidency with family makes it even sweeter. Plus, he has overcome several health crises on his path to the presidency.

"I am a two time cancer survivor. I also had a liver transplant in 1993, and another liver and kidney in July 2015. The Lord has blessed me," Freeny said.

He's already selected "The Melody of Life" as the 2019 Rose Parade theme, which highlights music's role as a universal language.

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