By: Tony Best
How should you begin a day of color, pageantry, bottom-wiggling music, merriment and fun?
Ask Harry Belafonte, the legendary international superstar of the stage, screen and television, and the maestro whose incredible songs are like anthems across the Caribbean, indeed around the world and he would respond by singing the first verse of Day-O, the song that was first recorded in the 1950s and helped to propel the Calypso album to music immortality.
Actually, that’s what he did just before setting out down Eastern Parkway on Monday to begin the parade of costume bands which attracted more than two million people to Brooklyn’s well-known thoroughfare, Eastern Parkway. It was a day when the rays of the sun fought and defeated any threatening dark clouds which weather forecasters had warned against.
“I wouldn’t have missed this for anything in the world,” said Sheila Thompson, a Trinidadian who came from Boston to be part of what she called “our day” in Brooklyn. “The carnival is about our culture and about how we express it for all to enjoy.”
And when it was all over around six o’clock in the evening and after City workers had cleared the newly paved streets; and the presence of police officer had started to dwindle, the smiles on people’s faces and the joy of the moment sent a strong message that the efforts of so many had paid handsome dividends.
“I haven’t attended carnival in many years,” said William Watson, a Queens resident. “But I decided to attend this year and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.”
After several hours of foot-stomping soca, calypso and reggae music had forced most of the two-million spectators and revelers to dance with delight either on the parade route or on its adjoining streets, it was clear that fun and excitement were the dominating factors behind the 45th annual West Indian-American Day Carnival, the largest ethnic festival in America.
“The West Indian carnival is a sight to behold,” said Belafonte, perhaps the most famous of all the people on the Parkway.
Christine Quinn, the City Council Speaker who joined Belafonte in the line-up of parade grand marshals agreed.
“The people from the Caribbean have given so much to this City and the carnival is but a single manifestation of their contribution,” she said walking along the Parkway after the carnival breakfast. “I consider myself fortunate to have been chosen as a grand marshal.”
Bill de Blasio’s the City’s public Advocate whose wife is from the Caribbean, said that the carnival deserves its description as being the largest festival of its kind certainly in the City and perhaps in the country.
Throughout the day, the revelers and spectators from every island-nation, territory and coastal state, including hundreds of thousands from Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Vincent. Guyana, Barbados, Grenada and St. Lucia showed off the strong Caribbean-America connection. The sea of color and national flags made the Parkway, Caribbean Avenue for a day.
It was particularly true for nationals of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago who were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the independence of their countries.
“I was deeply honored that President Barack Obama invited me tube a part of our country’s delegation to the anniversary celebrations in Jamaica,” U.S. Congresswoman Yvette Clarke told the guests at the breakfast before introducing Belafonte, whom she hailed as not simply an entertainer but a fearless fighter for the human and civil rights of people in America and around the world.
Moving to the pulsating sounds from the islands, members of the costume band, many on trucks but most on the street swayed to the music, wearing dazzling head-dresses and beaded bikinis and other forms of multi-colored attire. They kept up a steady pace along the Parkway where a sea of humanity took in the aroma of West Indian dishes, such as curried goat, peas and rice and jerk pork and chicken. And when they had consumed the food they washed it down with mauby and other soft drinks which have irrevocable links to the Caribbean. Every national flag in the region was on display, underscoring the national pride of individual states which form part of Caricom and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean states.
“I am from Haiti and we feel very much part of this event,” asserted Pierre, who opted not to give his last name. “This is shared and dynamic experience. Who wouldn’t wish to be part of it”?
Marsha Thompson, a budding entrepreneur from Bedford Stuyvesant but whose parents came to the United States more than 40 years ago from Jamaica and St. Vincent felt the same way.
“Carnival is the time of the year when you put aside all of the barriers of social class and have a good time. I certainly enjoyed it,” she insisted after the bands had left and the Parkway cleared.
Unfortunately, a few acts of senseless violence occurred, caused the deaths of two victims after the festival was over and Yolanda Lezama-Clarke, until recently WIADCA’s long-serving President, said that she very much regretted the incidents.
“You plan and you pray that the incidents don’t occur, but when you have two million people participating in such an event, you really can’t stop a few people from doing something stupid and senseless. My heart goes out to those whose loved one were either killed or injured,” Lezama-Clarke said. “The parade turned out well.