Last year Labor Day, I accepted an invitation to campaign for Sen. Barack Obama at the annual West Indian American Day Parade on Eastern Parkway, only to be disappointed when he was a no-show. This year for Labor Day, since Sen. Obama was unable to come to the people, I decided to bring the people - or at least their messages - to Sen. Obama.
The West Indian American Day Parade is one of the largest in the city. According to WIADCA, the organizing body, the parade attracts more than 3 million spectators. The West Indian American Day Parade can trace its provenance back to Harlem in the 1920s, when Trinidadian immigrant Jessie Waddell hosted masquerades for her neighbors. On or about 1965, the parade left Harlem for Brooklyn.
In 1967, when Carlos Lezama was elected President of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association, only a few hundred revelers joined the celebration on a block near his home on Dean Street. In 1969, when Mr. Lezama obtained a city permit for a parade along Eastern Parkway, from Utica Avenue to Grand Army Plaza, tens of thousands watched or marched. By 2001, under the stewardship of Mr. Lezama and one year prior to his retirement, the parade had metamorphosed into the city's largest - millions of spectators, thousands of revelers, 42 bands, and 30 floats.
There's something for everyone at the West Indian Day Parade. For foodies, there's a smorgasbord to be sampled - jerk chicken, oxtail, callaloo, souse, fried bake, fried flying fish, and much more. For artists and musicians, there's an explosion of creativity as seasoned bandleaders showcase the crème de la crème and panmen beat melodious rhythms on the steel pans. For me, it is a chance to reconnect with family and friends, some of whom drive in from as far north as Toronto, Canada, and from as far south as Washington, D.C. Loyal parade goers even carve out their niche, returning year after year to the same spot.
In years past, I was privileged to attend the kickoff breakfast with the Mayor, typically held at Lincoln Terrace Park. The breakfast was the rare opportunity to rub shoulders with organizers, sponsors, distinguished guests (Mayor of Port-of-Spain, Trinidad), Grand Marshals (Peter Minshall and the Mighty Sparrow), members of Congress (Charles Rangel), and a former first lady turned U.S. Senator (Hillary Rodham Clinton).
This year, the theme for the parade was "One Caribbean, Many Cultures". The grand marshals were Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Gov. David Paterson, author Dr. Elizabeth Nunez, and folklorist Les Slater. U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel and City Comptroller William Thompson, Jr. served as honorary grand marshals.
According to Jean Alexander, event organizer, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama was asked to be grand marshal, but his camp was nonresponsive. So mid-afternoon Monday, as I hummed the tune of the Mighty Sparrow's "Barack the Magnificent"
and enjoyed the luncheon at the Brooklyn Museum, I had an 'ah-ha' moment. Since Sen. Obama could not come to the people, I would bring the people to Sen. Obama. I approached fellow diners at the organizers' lunch at the Brooklyn Museum, and asked what they would have told Sen. Obama if he was at the parade. Here are some of the responses:
YVONNE J. GRAHAM, former Deputy Brooklyn Borough President and candidate for Borough President 2009. In 1985, there was a report by the Task Force on Black and Minority Health that identified eight areas where blacks and minorities suffered eighty percent of excess morbidity and mortality. The report also outlined a series of recommendations. Today, almost 23 years later, the situation is not only worse, but we can add two more categories - HIV and asthma. On the national agenda, health care should not simply address the element of affordability, but also the underlying issue - poverty. I would like to see Sen. Obama craft an anti-poverty program with an eye toward self-sufficiency since it is directly correlated to health outcome.
CAROLYN SANDERS-JAMES, Brooklyn Borough Director for the Office of the Mayor Community Assistance Unit. I would tell Sen. Obama to take a look at the gun laws and gun trafficking coming into the city, especially given the high level of black-on-black crime. Sen. Obama needs to address the youth, particularly the black youth.
DARLENE MEALY, City Councilmember, 41st District Brooklyn. If Sen. Obama came to the parade, he would have received the support from diverse communities and I guarantee he would have been immersed in the rich culture.
AL-FAHIE PEMBERTON, supporter of Sen. Eric Adams. All the angels in heaven and Dr. King would rise up and say, "You've made my dream come true". It's not about Dr. King, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey or Obama. It's all about change.
INGRID LEWIS-MARTIN, Chief of Staff for Sen. Eric Adams. I understand why Sen. Obama is not here. I miss him. He's here in spirit and we represent him. He was sent to us by divine order and has a tremendous role to fulfill, but he will rise to the occasion. Always keep the faith, never lose perspective.
BERTHA HARE, Volunteer to Sen. Eric Adams. I would tell Sen. Obama to stay the course. He is the only one who can bring us forward with his vision.
BURCHELL M. MARCUS, Captain, 11th Cong. District. In 1989, I went with several of my colleagues to visit friends in Chicago. While there, people were talking about this guy named Barack, so we wanted to find out more about him. We headed to the south side of Chicago and met Barack. He was a very humble individual, doing outreach work and receiving positive feedback. I said to one of my colleagues, "This young man is going places". In 2004, after Sen. Obama spoke at the Democratic Convention, I said, "Here's our next president". God has truly blessed Sen. Obama to do the things he is doing.
SHARON BENNETT, Freelance Photographer. Keep up the good work! I see Sen. Obama as a future Dr. King since he is going down the same path.