West Indian Carnival controls Brooklyn with color, pageantry, music and food
A million-plus revelers and spectators put Caribbean culture on center stage
It was a sight to behold.
Jubilant revelers, hundreds of thousands of spectators, many holding national flags from across the chain of island-nations, scores of uniform police and prison officers, some tracing their roots to Caribbean and costume band players of every size, shape and color.
And not even the humid day, threats of intermittent showers and the presence of politicians seeking voter support a week before next Tuesday’s Democratic and Republican primary election primaries could dampen the spirit of the million-plus spectators and participants who went to Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn to enjoy the West Indian American Day carnival, “the greatest show on earth.
“This is life and I glad that I am here to see it and to feel the spirit. I really want to enjoy the music, see the colorful costumes, see people dance and take in the spectacle,” said Sophia Hinkson, a New York City police officer for the past 16 years. “You have to celebrate your culture and this carnival is the greatest. I am a Caribbean immigrant and police officer all in one.”
Hinkson’s infectious mood was shared by Wendell Sealy, a retired captain in the New York City Corrections Department who served for years at Riker’s Island, the world’s largest jail.
“We are here to celebrate our culture and we are out in full force and in uniform as corrections officers,” said the man who heads the Association of Caribbean-Americans in Corrections. “We are taking this opportunity to show everyone that the City’s Corrections Department offers immigrants a rewarding career complete with benefits, including pensions and opportunities for advancement. But of course we are showing off our West Indian culture.”
Sierra Thomas, who proudly displayed a national flag behind a police barricade, shared that sentiment.
“I want to let everyone know who I am, a person from the Caribbean,” she told the Carib News.
Thomas Bailey, WIADCA’s new President, was upbeat about the day, even before Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn’s Borough President and West Indian DJ, Christopher Bowe, more popularly known as “Wassy” headed down the Parkway as this year’s Grand Marshals.
“This is a great celebration which reflects the immense contribution of West Indians in this City,” said Markowitz, who credited the consistent support of Caribbean immigrants for his ability to win elections beginning with his run for the New York State Senate and culminating with his three terms at Borough Hall in downtown Brooklyn.
“The one group I relied on through thick and thin at the polls was the Caribbean community,” he said.
Little wonder, then, that as he prepares to leave office in January, giving way to State Senator Eric Adams, Markowitz announced a $ 1 million budgetary allocation to the Parks Department to build a netball courts in Brooklyn for the West Indian women who engage in the sport that is largely unknown to Americans but is popular across the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, England, Scotland and other part of the Commonwealth.
“The courts are to be dedicated to the memory of Carlos Lezama who did so much to spread and promote Caribbean culture through carnival in this Cavity,” said Markowitz.
Adams, Markowitz’ heir-apparent who is almost certain to be the next borough president, running unopposed for the Democratic nomination, paid tribute to both WIADCA and the retiring Borough president saying in their different ways contributed to the vibrancy and success of Brooklyn.
Both Bill Thompson, a former Comptroller, and Bill de Blasio, the Public Advocate and front-runner in the Democratic primary, joined in heaping praise on West Indians and their grand display of their cultural heritage. Thompson made sure he pointed to his own Caribbean heritage as the grandson of immigrants from Str. Kitts-Nevis while de Blasio linked himself and his family to Barbados, citing his wife’s Bajan roots as strong evidence of the important connection.
“I took my wife and my children to Barbados and we were able to visit that remarkable country,” said de Blasio, who leads five candidates in public opinion polls as the Democratic election draws near. “We were able to meet some of my wife’s relatives she had never met and didn’t know didn’t know she had. Barbados is a wonderful country and our children thoroughly enjoyed it.”
De Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray is the great granddaughter and grand daughter of Bajan immigrants who came to the U.S. during the first two decades of the 20th century and raised their families in the City.
“The West Indian carnival is a showpiece of culture and I fully expect to garner quite a lot of support in the election from among members of the Caribbean community,” said de Blasio.
Christine Quinn, City Council Speaker of the City Council and one of the most powerful elected officials in the City who like de Blasio was on the Parkway shaking every hand that was extended to her said that she too was expecting wide support among West Indian voters.
“This parade and the following it has demonstrate how influential people from the Caribbean are in this city,” Quinn said as she walked along the parade route. “This is a remarkable show of the important role played by people from the Caribbean in this city.”
Mercedes Narcisse, a Haitian immigrant who is running in the 46th City Council District and hoping to become the second person born in the Creole-speaking coastal state to win a seat at City Hall said that the carnival, its beauty and vibrancy showed off the Caribbean “in a light befitting the role we play.”