WIADCA unveils huge 50th anniversary celebrations

WIADCA’s marketing director, Trinidadian Jean Alexander.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

The Brooklyn-based West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA), organizers of the extravagant Labor Day Carnival Parade on Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway, has unveiled several activities to mark its 50th anniversary.

According to WIADCA’s marketing director, Trinidadian Jean Alexander, the milestone initiative will be held under the theme, “Celebrating 50 years of Caribbean Carnival & Culture – From A Dream to A Legacy.”

Alexander said on Tuesday that over two dozen events are being planned to commemorate the historic achievement.

The celebrations begin with a church service at St. Matthews Roman Catholic Church, on Utica Avenue and Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, on Jan. 15, at 11:30 am.

A Black-Tie Gala will be held on Thursday, April 27, at El Caribe Country Club, 5945 Strickland Ave., Mill Basin, in Brooklyn.

Other events include: Make Music New York – June 21, at Ronald Mc Nair Park, Washington Avenue and Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn; Memorial Luncheon for late WIADCA President Carlos Lezama — venue, date and time to be announced; Family Day, July 22, at Ronald Mc Nair Park, Washington Avenue and Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn; Arts in Education – Visits to Schools – Costume-Making Workshops, WIADCA Office Rogers Avenue, Brooklyn, May-June; and Costume-Making Workshops — Queens Borough Hall — May-June.

Alexander said West Indian carnival in New York was born in Harlem in the early1930’s in the Grand Ballrooms of the Renaissance, Audubon, Savoy and other venues in the form of indoor “costume parties.”

“They were hosted by West Indian immigrants, who were homesick at carnival time and tried to recreate their carnival traditions here in the US, as they remembered in their home countries of Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada and St. Vincent, etc., as the very cold Lenten season approached,” Alexander said.

In the mid-1940’s, led by Trinidadian Jessie Wardell, the West Indian Carnival was brought onto the streets in Harlem, Alexander said.

After a number of years, she said the rapidly-growing spectacle attracted opposing groups, and was finally stopped by the City.

Rufus Goring, a Trinidadian, who produced costumes for Harlem Carnival, staged a small carnival in Brooklyn in 1965, Alexander said.

However, she said he did not have a “permit, and the authorities stopped the celebration.”

Alexander said Goring then enlisted the help of his friend, Trinidadian Carlos Lezama, “a very strong-willed steel pan player who was also determined, ambitious and charismatic, and who always found a way to get things done.”

WIADCA was established in Brooklyn in 1967 under Lezama and “a handful of dedicated members,” Alexander said.

She said Lezama was re-elected many times during his 34-year presidency.

When he retired in 2001, his daughter Yolanda Lezama-Clark, a registered nurse, was elected president, serving for 10 years.

In 2012, Trinidadian Thomas Bailey was elected WIADCA president, serving a three-year term.

William R. Howard was elected president in December 2015, heading a 13-member board of directors.

Alexander said WIADCA’s volunteer membership roster have expanded to over 50 persons.

She said an additional part-time group of more than 100 “seasonal volunteers complement the membership with tasks required.”

Alexander said WIADCA recently agreed to partner with numerous established groups and agencies, including the US Department of Commerce; the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization; and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), with its Secretariat in Georgetown, Guyana.

“WIADCA’s purpose is to promote various Caribbean cultural art forms, to develop and encourage talented Caribbean nationals and to provide an enhanced life experience for the wider non-Caribbean community,” Alexander said.

“We showcase music, design and performing arts through staged events throughout the year, ending the season with a tribute to our “Caribbean Carnival,” while promoting the support of those businesses that make it possible,” she added.

Alexander said the five-day festival culminates in a “spectacular New York Carnival Parade” — considered the largest in North America — on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn on Labor Day, the first Monday in September that is celebrated as a public holiday in the US.

WIADCA also hosts educational forums, presents college scholarships, cultural workshops, networking, among other special events during the year “to broaden its community and educational goals,” Alexander said.

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