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Over one million people are expected to flood Eastern Parkway on Labor Day, September 7, for Brooklyn’s annual extravaganza, the 42nd annual West Indian Carnival Festival Parade.
The event, arguably the borough’s most elaborate show-stopper and certainly its biggest party, is indeed a favorite with people young and old, and every age in between, thanks to its insouciant combination of bold music and intricate costumes, and its general air of bonhomie.
The whole elaborate event is orchestrated by the West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA), whose president, Yolanda Lezama-Clark, is the daughter of the parade’s founder, Carlos Lezama.
WIADCA’s goal, each year, is for people from each of the region’s countries to come out and show their “national colors” on Carnival day, either by donning dramatic costumes or by wearing examples of their national dress.
In this way, they fit right into the day of celebration and pageantry, which features a broad range of entertainment representing the varied musical genres nurtured in the islands, from Calypso to Reggae to Soca. A highlight is the performances of a myriad of steel pan bands.
This year, the ceremonial ribbon cutting will take place at 11 a.m. at the intersection of Utica Avenue and Eastern Parkway. Those cutting the ribbon include Lezama-Clark, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York State Governor David Paterson, and the parade’s grand marshals, retired General and former Secretary of State Colin Powell; Mark Cornell, the CEO of Moet-Hennessy USA, U.S. Representative Yvette Clarke and Chief Joseph Esposito of the NYPD.
While the reviewing stand is in front of the Brooklyn Museum, the action takes place all along the route, where the milling crowds congregate.
From this vantage point, they can watch the performers in the main roadway. At least 50 costumed bands are expected to participate, said Jean Alexander, a spokesperson for WIADCA. In addition, she told this paper, there will be more than 70 floats in the parade.
Parade-goers can also savor the varied merchandise offered for sale by vendors all along the route on the service roads along both sides of Eastern Parkway.
In particular, not only the sights and sounds of the Caribbean come to life during the event, but also the flavors. Vendors throng the parade route, selling mouth-watering dishes such as Jerk Chicken, rice and peas and beef patties to satisfy the celebrants’ hunger for home.
Not surprisingly, given the momentousness of the occasion, the party begins days before the big event.
Leading up to the parade itself, Carnival enthusiasts enjoy a wide range of parties and performances, including two for young revelers %u2013 a stay-in-school cultural event on Friday, September 4th, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and the annual Junior Carnival, on Saturday, September 5, from 9 a.m to 3 p.m.
The kids’ events are a natural outgrowth of Carnival. The junior carnival -- which is open to children between the ages of one and 16 -- has grown exponentially, with many of the mas camps having junior sections.
While it’s not as expansive as the Labor Day parade, the junior carnival is also a major event, withapproximately 500,000 people lining the parade route %u2013 which begins at Kingston Avenue and St. John’s Place, heads over to President Street and wends its way to the Brooklyn Museum -- to watch the children, many in miniature adult costumes, dance by.
“Thousands and thousands of children” are expected to participate, said Alexander. “At least 40 bands are bringing out their own junior carnival sections.”
The kids’ cultural event, which is open to school-age children, free of charge, has been a part of the festivities leading up to Carnival for the past two decades, said Alexander. Its theme is “Stay n school, stay off drugs,” and those who attend the event %u2013 which is held in the parking lot at the back of the Brooklyn Museum %u2013 enjoy a wide range of entertainment, including hip hop, calypso, reggae and steel band music.
“We are putting a lot of effort into young people this year,” noted Alexander. In part, she said, this reflects the fact that the steel bands have large numbers of young members. “Some have 75 percent, some have 50 percent,” she added, stressing, “The influx of young people is making it more and more important that we address them in a way that makes it clear that we care about them staying off the street. Being involved in the culture gives them steadiness, the ability to stay away from bad company and drugs.”
Alexander opined that it’s beneficial for youngsters and teens to get involved with the bands and other musical groups, because being a part of a performance group requires a great deal of practice. “It gives the kids the steadiness we want our young people to have. We recognize the need for young people’s talents to be cultivated.”
This is one of the reasons why WIADCA grants scholarships to some of the young people in the community, said Alexander, who explained that, this year, for the first time, the five scholarships that will be awarded will be given to the offspring of Mas Band and Steel Band performers.
While most people attend Carnival to savor the sounds, sights and flavors of the Caribbean, the event also provides a stellar opportunity to raise awareness in the community of major issues. This year, WIADCA is teaming up with two partners -- the American Cancer Society and the United States Census Bureau -- to highlight both the importance of regular cancer screenings and the urgency of filling out Census forms when they are distributed next year, to make sure that an accurate count of the borough West Indian population occurs.
Thus, the theme of “Jump for the Cure, Jump Up and Be Counted,” was developed. “I am committed to harnessing the titanic power of the millions of people on Eastern Parkway by putting the spotlight on important causes in our community,” stressed Lezama-Clark.
“Whether you are documented or not, we as Caribbean nationals must sake our place in this country by ensuring we count accurately in 2010,” Lezama-Clark also said.
WIADCA’s website is www.wiadca.org.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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