J’Ouvert organizers pay virtual tribute to essential workers, steelpan icons and Caribbean culture

Yvette Rennie, president of J’Ouvert City International, Inc.
Yvette Rennie

In view of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Brooklyn-based J’Ouvert City International, Inc., organizers of the annual, pre-dawn West Indian American J’Ouvert celebration on Labor Day Monday, agreed not to host the grand event this year.

Instead, the 36-year-old group on Monday staged a virtual tribute to essential workers, steelpan icons and Caribbean culture.

“Unfortunately, the world is battling a pandemic, and there are guidelines,” said Trinidadian Yvette Rennie, president of the organizing group. “J’Ouvert City International, Inc. is following those guidelines. We will not be celebrating J’Ouvert on the streets or any other place in Brooklyn.

“Our J’Ouvert will be virtual in honor of the essential/frontline workers, Black Lives Matter and our cultural icons who passed,” she added.

Rennie said the essential frontline workers “have worked tirelessly at the forefront of this battle with our faceless enemy called coronavirus. We have seen them cry, we bear witness to the battle scars of the mask lines on their faces; and, yet, they have not given up.”

“We have also lost cultural stalwarts, who were victims of the virus,” she added, stating that the honorees were among “the young leaders currently engaged in the national protest movement against the scourge of systemic racism and police brutality in this country.”

Rennie said J’Ouvert City International, Inc. “proudly” honored “these heroes” in recognition and appreciation of their “outstanding, unselfish diligent effort to our community.”

Honorees included 15 essential workers drawn from a pool of nurses, aides, homeless shelter advocates, transit workers and New York City Mayor’s Crisis Management System.

Rennie said 2019 J’Ouvert participants were also be honored and rewarded.

Categories included: Fancy and Old Masquerade bands; Individual Male and Female Masquerade; Steelband, Calypso and Bomb tunes; Rhythm Groups; and Flag Waver.

In addition, Rennie said special honor was given to Martin “Dougie” Douglas, Hansel “Hanny” Leon and Oscar Williams – three Trinidadian “icons of the J’Ouvert Steelband movement, who we sadly lost to the coronavirus” – as well as Trinidadian Neville Jules, “one of the notable pioneers and innovators in the steelpan community,” who died in early February.

The J’Ouvert City International, Inc. head said 13 local elected officials, as well as the New York City Police Commissioner, were invited to hand out citations and proclamations.

The staging area for Monday’s event, which took place from 10 am to noon, was the parameter in front the United States Post office on Empire Boulevard between Nostrand and Rogers avenues in Brooklyn, which is part of the usual J’Ouvert morning parade route.

“Our Caribbean cultural traditions are strong, and our J’Ouvert City International brand has been one of its most vibrant media of expression in Brooklyn, New York for the past 36 years,” Rennie said. “For this year, COVID-19 may have silenced our street music, but it cannot stop the music in the hearts of our steelband and masquerade proponents. direction against this world-wide health crisis.”

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