By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
New Orleans has the Mardi Gras. Indianapolis has the Indy 500. And Brooklyn has the West Indian Day Parade and Carnival on Labor Day, which attracts millions of people – including many from the Caribbean itself – every year.
To mark the beginning of Carnival season, the West Indian American Day Carnival Association Inc. (WIADCA) held a news conference in front of Borough Hall on Thursday afternoon. Both before and after the conference, onlookers were treated to the music of the Casym Steel Orchestra as well as the dancing of a some revealingly-clad young ladies from several carnival “crews.”
This will be the first year that the Carnival, which goes down Eastern Parkway, will have a partnership with the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. Carlo Scissura, chairman and CEO of the Chamber, explained that the Chamber would raise money for the Carnival (WIADCA itself is non-profit), encourage merchants to offer Carnival-related deals and help sponsor events.
Brooklyn Democratic Chairman and former Surrogate Judge Frank Seddio, whom several other people on the podium called “The Boss,” recalled the day in 1969 when members of WIADCA came to the Police Department to ask permission to hold the first parade on Eastern Parkway. At the time, Seddio was a police officer.
“They went to the captains, to the borough commanders, and told them about their plan,” Seddio said. “And they all said, `You must be crazy. Who’s going to come to a parade on Labor Day?’ Well, that first year, 50,000 people said.”
Seddio added that he was from “the eastern-most island in the Caribbean – Sicily.”
Others who spoke included Council Members Letitia James and Jumaane Williams (who, after being introduced, put on a West Indian accent especially for the occasion); Thomas Bailey, head of WIADCA; Dolly Williams, WIADCA board member; and Borough President Marty Markowitz, who insisted that he is a Trinidadian. (On St. Patrick’s Day, Markowitz calls himself one of the “Loyal Yiddish Sons of Erin.”)
Speaking about the Caribbean food at the parade, Markowitz said, “Why do you think Frank Seddio and I look the way we do?,” referring to their weight.
While the parade itself is the main event, there are several days of events – many of them in the parking lot of the Brooklyn Museum – leading up to the parade. These include a “Caribbean Woodstock” featuring soca, calypso, reggae and other performers; a “Stay in School” youth talent show, a Brass Fest featuring horn groups; a Steel Pan competition; and a Junior Carnival.
Bailey recalled that the group started the Carnival after requests from musicians, crafts people, artists, and others who were nostalgic for their homelands.
Speaking of his organization’s work with schoolchildren, he said, “It’s possible that the next Lord Kitchener, the next Bob Marley or the next Sparrow may come from Brooklyn.”