Nationals of St. Kitts and Nevis were in ecstasy last Friday as the country’s flag was raised for the very first time at Philadelphia City Hall.
Philadelphia resident Kylla Herbert — whose late father, Nkem Tshombe, hailed from St. Kitts and Nevis — told Caribbean Life that she was honored to lead the historic initiative.
“I felt great pride to have the 36th Anniversary of Independence of St. Kitts and Nevis acknowledged by the City of Philadelphia and for it to be the first event to start ‘Welcoming Week’ in Philadelphia,” she said.
Herbert said “Welcoming Week” brings together immigrants and US-born community members “in a spirit of unity and raises awareness of the benefits of making communities stronger by welcoming everyone.”
She said organizing the independence flag-raising ceremony was special, because of the memory of her late father, who, on Sept. 12, would have celebrated his 71st birthday. Her father was the founder of the annual South Jersey Caribbean Festival.
“For me, it was not only a celebration of independence but a celebration of his life,” Herbert said. “It was a reminder of my father’s life and the impact that his love of Caribbean arts and culture has had on me.”
In addition, she said it was “heart-warming” to join with nationals in the Diaspora, descendants and friends “to make this first independence flag-raising for St. Kitts and Nevis a success.”
Herbert said several attendees took off from work purposely to join the celebration.
“For some persons, it was support for the nation; and, for others, it was to represent their love and pride for St. Kitts and Nevis,” she said.
Among the dignitaries attending the ceremony was St. Kitts and Nevis Ambassador to the US, Dr. Thelma Phillip Browne.
Herbert said Dr. Browne delivered “informative remarks regarding the country and spoke on this year’s theme for independence, which is ‘Unify, Transform, Enrich: Uplifting Communities for Independence 36.’”
Other addresses were made by Miriam Enriquez, of the Philadelphia City Office of Immigrant Affairs; Stanley Straughter, of the Mayor’s Commission on African and Caribbean Affairs; and Philadelphia Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell.
Straughter and Blackwell have been “long-time advocates of Caribbean communities for many years,” Herbert said.
She said Vincentian-born, Philadelphia-based community activist James Cordice shared information about Nevis-born, US founding father Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the US Treasury.
In addition, Sheila Hess presented a proclamation from Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, Herbert said.
She said Trinidadian Patrick Davis played the steel pan; Carl Archibald, a St. Kitts native, portrayed “the St. Kitts folklore clown” and Vincentian Leonard Joseph portrayed Hamilton.
St. Kitts and Nevis gained its political independence from Great Britain on Sept. 19, 1983.
“We chose to start our independence celebrations here in Philadelphia on Sept. 13,” Herbert said.
Besides Herbert and Cordice, the organizing committee comprised: Livingston Benjamin (Nevis); Keith Morgan (St. Kitts); Denise Willoughby (Camden, NJ); Vanetta Grant (Nevis); and Teresa Browne Parrish (Nevis).
Teresa Browne-Parris, a native of Nevis, who, for the past four years, has been hosting an Emancipation Day celebration service in Philadelphia on the first Sunday in August, said: “Having our flag raised in Philadelphia complements this event, and is a boost for our twin-island nation.
“It also helps in the promotion of St. Kitts-Nevis as the ideal vacation destination, if only to tour the historic site of one the American founding fathers, Sir Alexander Hamilton,” she said.
Willoughby said the singing of the national anthem of St. Kitts and Nevis at Philadelphia City Hall was “bone-chilling” and “soulful”, adding that “the community of brotherly love was captivated by every word of the national anthem.”
Benjamin said he “felt privileged” to stand beside Philadelphia’s City officials “to raise and salute the St. Kitts-Nevis flag.”
“Being a native of Nevis, I was honored, grateful, and I was filled with undeniable joy to have witnessed, as well as be a part of, such a historical-making event,” he said.
“The St. Kitts and Nevis flag-raising ceremony was truly an event that I will treasure for the rest of my life,” Benjamin added. “Philadelphia, the ‘City of Brotherly Love,’ demonstrated much love to St. Kitts and Nevis.”