Here’s How COVID-19 Has Impacted The West Indian Carnival Labor Day Celebration In Brooklyn, NY

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Brooklyn West Indian American Day Carnival. (Hayden Roger Celestin image)
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By NAN Staff Writer 

News Americas, BROOKLYN, NY, Mon. Sept. 7, 2020: It’s Labor Day weekend and normally, Brooklyn, NY would be buzzing with Caribbean fetes, parties and oh yes, carnival! But not this year. Like with public events globally, COVID-19 has sent this year’s West Indian Labor Day festivities, the biggest in North America, off the streets and into a virtual reality as well. Just like with the Nottinghill Carnival last weekend.

No wining down Eastern Parkway this Labor Day Monday; no masquerading, no skimpy costumes, no feting in public, no parties on the street, no power breakfast with a horde of politicians promoting their ‘Caribbean for A Day,’ message, no delicious West Indian food on the street corners, and no J’Ouvert.

New York’s Mayor Bill DeBlasio, who has attended the annual West Indian American Day Carnival since before taking office, says this year, members of the New York Police Department will even patrol central Brooklyn to make sure J’Ouvert and West Indian Day revelers do not take their celebration to the streets of New York City.

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So, for the first time in 53 years, organizers of the event, the West Indian American Day Carnival Association, WIADCA, has taken the celebration online, via live performances from some of the region’s top soca entertainers like Kes The Band and Iwer George. The virtual party kicked off live Friday night with Brassfest 2020 and was featured on YouTube as well as on Instagram and Facebook Live. The live event garnered over 20,000 views on YouTube.

On Saturday night, WIADCA also present Panology in place of Panorama; and on Sunday, the group presented a virtual youth fest in place of the annual children’s carnival.

Today, Labor Day Monday, carnival fans can don their costumes and their flags and Zoom to #Virtualroad by registering on https://www.ticketgateway.com/nycarnivalvirtualroad to receive your link. 

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Jumaane Williams, at the West Indian Day Parade on September 3, 2018 in Brooklyn, New York.(Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

The Zoom parties will also feature local lawmakers, including Council member Laurie Cumbo and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, are already in the spirit. “I’m at home trying on past costumes that I wore in years before, and I’m having a good time,” Cumbo said.

“So many beautiful colors along the Caribbean, and everybody comes out and celebrates as one,” Williams said. “It’s an entire weekend of celebration, and it will be missed.”

But he added: “The fact is, the city is going through a rough time and the foreseeable future may be tough, but if we all do what we can with where we are, I really believe we are going to get through this.”

The J’Ouvert festival, which typically sends thousands of people streaming through Brooklyn early Monday morning as a pre-cursor to the WIADCA carnival, is also off this year but organizers are doing something different to mark the day.

  • 9 to 10 a.m.: A celebration of “supporters, elected officials, essential workers and those we lost as Virtual Marshals this year.” Tune in through Facebook or Instagram, @wiadca.
  • 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.: Popular DJ performances, costumes, masqueraders and DIY designs through Zoom. Register for a link to join here.

J’Ouvert City International, the group that organizes the annual festival, will honor frontline workers from the coronavirus crisis as well as J’Ouvert Steelband members who were lost to the virus during a morning press conference and breakfast, according to the organization.

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J’Ouvert celebration is Ole mas with a social message. (Hayden Roger Celestin image)

The event will be held in front of the Post Office on Empire Boulevard between Nostrand and Rogers avenues, which is part of the usual J’Ouvert morning parade route, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Fifteen essential workers will be honored, including nurses, aides, homeless shelter advocates, MTA workers and the Mayor’s Crisis Management System as well as several J’Ouvert Masquerade and Steelband groups who participated in the 2019 parade. Special honor will be given to Martin “Dougie” Douglas, Hansel “Hanny” Leon and Oscar Williams three icons of the J’Ouvert Steelband movement who we sadly loss to the coronavirus, as well as Mr. Neville Jules one of the notable pioneers and innovator in the steelpan community died in early February.

Meanwhile, organizers of the annual Guyana Folk Festival, also went virtual this year. The Guyana Cultural Association of New York, which hosts the annual event, presented a virtual international concert of Guyanese musicians included the Yoruba Singers’ Ezie Rockcliffe, Terry Gadraj, Super Terry, Stitchie, and the Angels Band.

This is the new Labor Day Carnival Weekend in Brooklyn, NY. Thanks COVID-19!

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