Sesame Flyers in ‘Vogue’

Runway Wednesdays at Sesame Flyers Mas Camp. From left, Latoya Lewis, Marsha Escayg (designer) and Alicia Walker.
Photo by Onika Straker

When Labor Day Carnival comes to mind, the first name to be called is Sesame Flyers International. Known for their large music trucks with more than 1000 beautifully colored masqueraders dancing along Eastern Parkway to the sweet sound of soca and calypso, their masterful steel pan orchestra or their 11 Band of the Year titles, Sesame Flyers has made a name for the Caribbean culture in NYC.

Sesame Flyers has been a prominent figure in its community for 30 years and counting. Founded by Joseph Charles in 1983 with his commitment of bettering his community through adult and childhood education, Sesame Flyers continues to hold strong its promise with its motto, “Love a kid today and every day.”

By offering adult classes such as GED and job training along with Family and Healthy relationships workshops to after school programs including homework help, mentoring programs and summer camps, they are living up to their motto. “In order for the children to be healthy and succeed in schools, the parents have to be healthy,” Aisha Carr reiterated.

[Skeptics may ask], “‘how can we love a kid today with mas?’ How can you not?” Ms. Carr asserted. Compared with other mas camps, where attention is focused on the fete and drinking, Sesame Flyers makes masquerading a family experience. “We love it when the kids say ‘mommy I want this or mommy I want to wear that!” At Sesame mas camp the parents can find a costume similar to that of their children. “The Saturday [kiddies’ carnival] is all about the kids. The parents parade in a tee-shirt that reads ‘proud parent of a Sesame masquerader.’ It is a joy to see them getting the kids involved at an early age.”

“The best thing about these services is they are free,” Ms. Carr exclaimed. Sesame Flyers is a non-profit organization. Many of the programs are funded by the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD). The biggest Sesame orchestrated fundraiser is the Labor Day parade. “Any dollar that come in from [costume registration] goes back into our community,” states Ms. Carr.

Sesame Flyer’s preparation for this year’s fundraiser was very deliberate. This year’s theme Vogue is a crossover of mas and runway fashion. Ms. Carr added, “We find ourselves with a population that is new to us [consisting of] second and third generation Americans who are not [particularly] familiar with mas [Carnival}. We wanted to bring back the pageantry of it.” Sesame Flyers is hoping to reignite the passion its ancestors indulged in during the early stages of carnival for this new generation of masqueraders. “We have to tell the story all over again. We will need to re-educate [our masqueraders] and [tell] them what [carnival] is all about,” she added

“Sesame Flyers prides themselves in knowing that we can teach people things that they take for granted business or youth programming. On the mas stand point that, ‘our local designers would be able to hone their craft. We are the umbrella that houses many of our designers and instructors have the resources that we are able to provide so they can build a name and better their craft,” said Carr.

Akin Ross of Akin and Caprice, is one of the mas designers and makers “vouging” under Sesame Flyers. He has designed under his own brand three sections, “Wild Life, Je T’aime and Ooo La La.” He also designed two sections for Sesame Flyers “Bellissimo Mare” and “Fierce.”

In 2007, Ross was given the opportunity to design his first adult section for Sesame Flyers, where they later went on to win Band of the Year.

When asked why continue to design with Sesame Flyers, Ross responded, “Sesame is meh home… it’s where I’m from.”

Before Ross became a mas designer and maker, he was a masquerader with Sesame Flyers. “It’s like staying home to keep Sesame moving [forward.]” “It’s the oldest well-known Caribbean name in Brooklyn and we want to keep it going,” said Ross.

Jalani Sosa has been a Sesame masquerader since 2009. Every year he is drawn back by the music, the people, the vibe and the atmosphere of the mas camp. A product of the Sesame Flyer’s after school programs Sosa is aware and appreciative of their community contributions. “They have a tremendous impact on the community; they have after school programs for the kids, adult training programs, resume building skills. “They are the only Carnival band… in Brooklyn that actually does a lot to uplift the community compared to other bands.”

Lynette Zephr has been a masquerader with Sesame Flyers for years. Zephr continues to support Sesame Flyers and by extension the community, because of costumes, the designers and the “extra jump up.” “I like the fact that we start at 34th Street on Church Avenue all the way onto the parkway,” said Zephr.

Zephr recommends to New Yorkers who are unfamiliar with the carnival culture to visit Sesame Flyers International. Experience for themselves how mas is made and why the culture is important to the community. And no other mas camp is capable of teaching the culture. “Sesame is the mother figure for all the other mas camps,” said Zephr, adding, “People come and go but they always come back. There is no place like Sesame Flyers.”

Sesame Flyers nurtures its communities, through it’s after school programs, summer camps and cultural activities. They provide scholarships for their kids that are entering college. Curtis Nelson, executive director of Sesame Flyers states, “Our purpose is to find resources to make this community a viable one; economically, culturally, socially, politically and spiritually.”

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