West Indian parade seeks new parade goers

William Howard, left, president of the West Indian American Carnival Association, and Jean P. Alexander, founder of the Caribbean American Center of New York.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Join the West Indian Day Parade before it gets cool.

The organizers of the epic Caribbean carnival are trekking around the borough to recruit local hipsters and other newcomers for the annual Labor Day procession down Eastern Parkway, in what they say is an attempt to keep up with Brooklyn’s changing demographics.

“We want to make sure that all the newcomers and people that recently moved to Brooklyn have the entire flavor of the Caribbean over the Labor Day weekend,” said William Howard, president of the parade organizing body, the West Indian American Day Carnival Association.

Howard says he wants new residents from predominantly black but rapidly gentrifying Caribbean neighborhoods such as Crown Heights and East Flatbush to shake a tail feather side-by-side with their neighbors, rather than just watching from the sidelines. Or, if they’d prefer, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities, too, he said.

The bacchanal bigwig has been handing out fliers to local businesses along Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights, where he says he often sees the new kids on the block enjoying Caribbean food and music, and he wants them to have a presence in the parade — as well as those who don’t yet know their cou-cou from their callaloo.

“I pass a restaurant near Sterling Street and Nostrand Avenue every day, and generally there are more non-West Indians eating roti than West Indians,” said Howard, who isn’t West Indian either, but got involved in organizing the festival while working with Rep. Shirley Chisholm. “Since we are the largest parade in New York City, we must be inclusive of everyone — and we can teach them how to dance and eat roti.”

The master of mas is also looking to find potential parade-goers in the more distant Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, as well as other immigrant communities around the borough, including the Eastern European cohort in Brighton Beach.

“If they’re foreign-born we want them to know that they’re welcome — they don’t have to separate themselves right here in Brooklyn,” said Howard. “There’s an incredible amount of energy in those communities, and a huge population of young people — and carnival is young people.”

And the carnival’s big cheese says he’s not worried about all the outsiders changing the parade — after all, he himself hails from North Carolina.

“I can skin a roti faster than someone from any of those islands,” he said. “You don’t have to be from the islands to jump into a roti.”

West Indian Day Parade (Eastern Parkway between Utica Avenue and Grand Army Plaza in Crown Heights, www.wiadcacarnival.org). Sept. 5, 11 am – 6 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimo[email protected]local.com.

More from Around NYC