There are balloon clowns and magician clowns. Nikki Brown Clown (nikkibrownclown.com) is a literacy clown.

“She is just ridiculous when she’s reading a story,” Nicole Brown says of her clown persona. “She’s constantly interrupting it and infusing it with music.”

In 2011, Brown’s aunt, Doris Rush, asked her to come up with a lighthearted character for the Juneteenth parade. Though the celebration—commemorating the 1865 emancipation of U.S. slaves—is more popular now, Rush considered the annual parade 10 years ago somewhat dour.

Clowns are something of a rarity these days, and Black clowns are practically unheard of. So when Brown saw the positive response—especially from children who hadn’t seen a Black clown before—it inspired her to take up the latex nose.

Due to the pandemic, the last two Juneteenth parades have been virtual, as have Nikki Brown Clown’s virtual story hours, in partnership with the Multnomah County Library. She focuses on children’s books by Black authors and the Black experience.

“We want to wait till kids get into high school or middle school to talk about race,” Brown says. “I’m teaching them about cultural pride now.”