West Indian American Day Parade in Brooklyn

September 1, 2008 3:17:05 PM PDT
Tens of thousands of revelers gathered in Brooklyn Monday for the West Indian American Day Parade, a boisterous celebration of Caribbean culture featuring reggae beats, miles of food stalls and costumes with a 20-foot wing span. The annual parade takes place on Labor Day but is modeled on traditional pre-Lenten Carnival festivities.

Spectators waved the flags of a dozen nations as they waited for the parade to move slowly down Eastern Parkway from Crown Heights to Grand Army Plaza.

Gregory Jules said that since moving from Brooklyn to Silver Spring, Md. 10 years ago he returns every year for the parade, to reconnect with friends from his native Haiti.

"If you're looking for someone and you can't find them on the Net, you'll probably see them here," Jules said.

A New York Police Department steel band led off the parade, followed by elected officials including Gov. David Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Bloomberg said New Yorkers should remember while celebrating that some 85 people were killed in the Caribbean by Hurricane Gustav, which slammed into Louisiana Monday with 115-mph winds.

He added, "By order of the mayor of New York, everyone is a little Caribbean-American today."

Brooklyn's borough president, Marty Markowitz, rode in a float with Keeth and Erinn Smart, the brother and sister who both won silver medals in fencing at the Beijing Olympics.

"They live right here in Flatbush!" Markowitz shouted through a megaphone. "And they're proud to be Jamaican!"

Vendors lining Eastern Parkway offered West Indian specialties like jerk chicken and curried goat. There were roast breadfruit, sorrel tea, pig's feet and coconuts hacked in half.

Parade-goers decked out in sequins, glitter and feathers danced to music from competing sound systems.

A contingent from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn included seminarians in black cassocks.

Adriana Condevilly was in a group of 150 from SUNY Downstate Medical Center, where she said the majority of employees are of Caribbean descent.

"We plan for this all year," Condevilly said. "It really helps morale and team building."

While there was no official crowd estimate, the parade is one of the largest in the city.

In previous years, the event has been marred by tragedy. In 1999, two children died when they were pinned between floats, and hours later a man was run over by a float and killed. In 2005, a man was shot to death.

There were no immediate reports of violence on Monday.

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