Diversity highlights 2016 Labor Day celebrations

Reggae singjay artist Tony Rebel shares a moment with a NYPD officer from the 78th Precinct.
Photo by Vinette K. Pryce

Undoubtedly the 2016 West Indian American Day Carnival Association’s presentations reflected unprecedented diversity and perhaps a commitment to integrate a wider pool of participants unseen in 49 years.

Amplifying the theme — “One Caribbean, One People, One Voice,” the five-day revelry proved a purposeful mantra when reggae, an often ignored music genre from Jamaica kicked off the pre-Labor Day celebration.

To see NYPD’s South Brooklyn Borough Chief Steven M. Powers totally engrossed in a performance by Third World’s lead-singer A.J. Brown was almost the iriest visual of all.

The two-star police officer applauded vigorously following the operatic rendition of “Con te partiro (Time to say Goodbye) the 1995 signature song by opera great Andrea Bocelli.

He told this Insider the Italian rendition was nothing short of “excellent” and identified the opera as one he associated with the popular “Sopranos” TV series.

The gold starred chief seemed impressed that on a night reserved for reggae music, Italy’s gift to the world would also take centerstage.

Replacement Jamaican reggae singjay Tony Rebel might have inspired a Rebelution when he declared to reggae beats “I’m a rebel.”

“If I was president you could smoke your weed again…but your next president must not have a penis.”

Needless to say, the predominant Jamaican crowd and resident New Yorkers who will have to vote in the Sept. 13 primary cheered the technically Democratic idea.

Taking an even bolder step into political satire, he rhymed that one candidate “is saying he wants to make America great again but I believe he wants to make America segregate again.”

From there he segued to render a reggae hit “if Jah is standing by your side …”

He seemed to endorse the Black Lives Matter Movement interjecting the tag to his routine while admitting that ‘all lives do matter.’

Rebel is among the first reggae artists to perform at the landmark venue during this period in more than two decades. Along with Third World, Romain Virgo, Chris Martin the reggae talents kicked off the first night of a series annually dominated by soca and calypso talents.

“I am happy to be among the first because it would not be Caribbean if reggae was not on the bill. I am happy to help grow it.”

Of his politically charged performance Rebel said afterwards “I didn’t get to say all I wanted to because time was short but I had much more to say.”

Rebelations from the six-foot three inches, 220 pounds seemed an appropriate and insightful injection to the first night appearance.

Launching into a series of hits which included “Teach The Children,” “Chatty Chatty,” “Just Friends” and “Fresh Vegetables” the reggae star secured a comfortable rapport with the crowd that already greeted him with a welcoming cheer of approval.

Despite the poor attendance, probably due to lack of promotion, WIADCA President Bill Howard seemed enthralled by the performance.

Watching from the sidelines he listened attentively and promised reggae’s return to the lineup for the 50th anniversary.

He gushed at the mention of diversity and was eager to promote the notion of oneness.

“You haven’t seen anything yet,” he told me.

As he rushed off in haste he smiled broadly probably proud of this year’s over-reach to a segment that probably felt left out of the usually segmented revelry.

“Look at this year’s journal,” he told me as he opened a 66-page, thick, colorful, 49th anniversary journal.

“Our grand marshals represent Guyana, Barbados, Puerto Rico, the USA and Trinidad & Tobago.”

Thumbing through the pages he pointed to full page images of reproductions revealing the history of the US Virgin Island, French Guiana, Dominica and the recent 28-medal sweep by Caribbean athletes who participated at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

He showed me 15 presidents and prime ministers decorating a page dedicated to leaders in the region.

On another page, the CARICOM consular corps in NYC provided 13 images of support for the 2016 pageantry.

Endorsements from organizations, corporations and businesses that cater to a Caribbean patronage also invested in the diverse production.

At the junior carnival I spotted the red star-decorated flag of Aruba, and flags of Montserrat fluttered amongst the most prevalent. There, Judith Ravin, public affairs officer for the Office of the Haiti Special Coordinator delivered remarks on Caribbean diaspora youth leadership.

“One Sea, One Voice, One Caribbean” distinguished a page devoted to Caribbean Tourism Organization’s mission with providing “the global voice of the region’s finest countries and territories.”

The Caribbean diaspora boasts 3.6 million residents in the United States and NYC is home to more than two million Caribbean immigrants. This year marked the first time the Department of State ever engaged directly with a large and diverse Caribbean diaspora population of this scale and the first time in the 49-year history of the New York Caribbean carnival that the Department ever participated in the parade.

Zakiya Carr Johnson, director of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs’ Race, Ethnicity, and Social Inclusion Unit spoke on social inclusion and women’s empowerment in the Caribbean at the breakfast on Labor Day.

Later that afternoon, Carr Johnson represented the Department of State in the parade.

Later in the week on Sept. 8, Juan Gonzalez, deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs was slated to brief foreign and diaspora press at the New York Foreign Press Center about U.S.-Caribbean policy and programs, and the importance of diaspora engagement.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Gonzalez was also expected to participate in an interactive panel discussion on “USA-Caribbean Diaspora: Priorities and Convergence” at Medgar Evers College.

That Rhea Smith was hired by WIADCA to interface with media seemed a brilliant step towards providing Cultural Diversity and Community Engagement.

The professional project manager who heads Funsation Media successfully engaged media and others and during the process enlightened more than a few veterans and committee members who in the past seemed unwilling to diversify the celebrations.

She provided consistent and valuable information in similar fashion she employed as the publicist tasked with diversifying the Organization of American States inaugural ball in 2009 when President Barack Obama became the first African-American leader of the USA.

In light of all these accomplishments, a huge congratulation should be extended to WIADCA and Bill Howard for executing the most diverse celebrations in its history.

If next year’s half-century milestone is approached with the same open-mindedness and attention to diversity, WIADCA can stand tall in maintaining oneness.

REMEMBER NOT TO FORGET 9/11

For families of victims and fallen heroes who lost their lives 15 years ago on Sept. 11, the date will forever recall the sadness and vulnerability Americans faced when the Twin Towers collapsed after airplanes propelled by enemies flew into New York City’s tallest landmarks.

Each year with respect and tribute to the fallen, two beams of light pierce the night sky to remind the world that two buildings stood in lower Manhattan and that the light of the souls that sacrificed on that ill-fated day shines upward and glows.

Since the 2001 travesty, a major memorial tribute has united families and first responders at the site of the alleged terrorist attack. However on the Tuesday following Labor Day, Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams hosted his annual 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony in the Rotunda of Brooklyn Borough Hall.

Intended to unite the families of victims and fallen heroes with citywide leaders and local residents, the event commemorated the 15th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center. It featured interfaith prayers, readings and tributes by surviving family members and selections from the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. There were moments of silence observed which coincided with the time of the towers’ collapse.

The first at 9:58 am in memory of the fall of the South Tower was marked and followed by the lowering of the American flag atop Brooklyn Borough Hall.

A remembrance wreath was placed outside the building by Borough President Adams and victims’ families.

The borough’s leader is a veteran of the NYPD and at the time of the tragedy was still active on the force. He reflected on his service during the 9/11 period saying the enduring impact on Brooklyn and New York City will remain indelible in the minds of Brooklynites. Other citywide leaders scheduled to address the ceremony included NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro, NYPD Chief of Department James O’Neill, FDNY Chief of Department James E. Leonard and United States Army Garrison (USAG) Fort Hamilton Commander Colonel Peter Sicoli.

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