We have been following the unraveling of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA) since last year and every day we hear of more developments within the organization.
Check out this very interesting article by Tony Best titled Move to Save West Indian Carnival and Keep it on Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway published for Carib News as WIADCA’s crisis triggers effort to strengthen festival and end its financial woes.
As the West Indian American Day Carnival Association tries to calm the turmoil caused by the departure of most of its directors, a determined effort is underway to keep the largest cultural festival alive and well.
Just as important is the call to keep the annual Labor Day parade that attracts more than two million revelers, spectators and vendors on Eastern Parkway. These campaigns are a form of pushback against long-standing wishes of some residents of Brooklyn who have been campaigning behind the scenes for years to relegate the spectacular phenomenon to Brooklyn’s back streets instead of maintaining it on one of Borough’s most prominent thoroughfares.
“We must do whatever is in our power to ensure both the longevity of WIADCA and the vibrancy of the carnival,” said Raymond Luke, Chairman of Sesame Flyers International, a major participant in the annual cultural extravaganza which contributes tens of millions of dollars to the City’s coffers. “It is very important to all of us to have the parade’s presence on Eastern Parkway maintained.“
Rheba Escalera, Director of Operations and Marketing of Burokeets, a prize winning costume band that puts hundreds of revelers on the Parkway every year, agreed.
“The problems WIADCA is facing need urgent attention and the prospects for change following the resignation of board members would be a good thing for both the organization and the carnival,” she told Carib News. “But what’s clear is that the festival is important, vital, to people from the Caribbean who constitute an important part of economic and social landscape of New York City, especially in Brooklyn. We must ensure that it remains on the Parkway because if it is no longer there as some City police officers would like to see occur, we would never be able to get it back.”
The turmoil erupted recently when nine of the 17 board members departed from the leadership. While Yolanda Lezama-Clarke, who resigned several weeks ago as WIADCA’s president but remains on the board insisted that they resigned, some of them are contending that they merely stepped off the Board because their terms had expired.
“They resigned,” said Lezama-Clarke, daughter of the revered founder of the festival, the late Carlos Lezama-Clarke.
Luke, Sesame Flyers International Chairman, put it differently.
“I was informed by some members with whom I am in touch that they didn’t resign as such but left when their terms of office expired, awaiting an election of officers,” he said. “But whether they resigned or left otherwise what’s crucial is that the problems, including the financial situation facing WIADCA are resolved and the parade remains where it has been for years. Carnival is vital to our community and to the City and it must not only stay but be given every opportunity to expand.”
Efforts to reach several of the board executives who have left and are involved in the controversy were unsuccessful. Calls to them went unanswered or in one case, the former member declined to comment.
In an interview, Yolanda Lezama-Clarke told Carib News that the organization’s goal was to elect a new board and give a voice to the costume and steel bands which were at the heart of the festival’s success. They were also hoping, she added, to bring new members into the organization so that Jamaicans, Haitians, Guyanese, Trinidadians, Grenadians, Barbadians are other national groups in the City would be able to bring diversity to the body and make it more representative of the community.
“We want to bring more diversity to the board and the memberships,” was the way she put it.
Anthony Hinds, Chairman of the National Alliance of Steel Pan, whose members have been participating in the Brooklyn carnival for decades, lent his voice to the chorus calling for change in WIADCA while backing the campaign to keep the festival going. He said that providing both the costume and steel pans with representation on WIDCA’s board was essential.
“The steel pans helped to build carnival over the years and we believe it would be a step in the right direction for both the steel and costume bands to be included on the board,” Hinds said. “We want change on the board and expanded membership to bring people with fresh ideas to the table. We must keep the carnival on the Parkway because that’s where it belongs.”
Like Sesame Flyers and Burokeets, the Steel Pan Alliance members are owed their prize money won in the 2011 carnival but which hasn’t been paid because of WIADCA’s financial woes. In all, the Association acknowledges owing $160,000 in prizes.
“We are disappointed that we haven’t been able to receive our prizes but we are determined to keep carnival alive on the Parkway,” said Hinds.
Dr. Lemuel Stanislaus, a retired dentist and former Grenada Ambassador to the United Nations who is perhaps the oldest living member of WIADCA, said that the current troubles were disturbing but not exactly new, explaining that more than 30 years ago the organization faced an intense internal battle but it was able to solve the problem.
“It’s a matter of history repeating itself. The carnival is well-established and it’s a good thing for the community and the City,” said Dr. Stanislaus, an honorary WIADCA board member. “It’s good for our culture and our Caribbean residents. That’s why we must have a meeting of minds to resolve this unfortunate development. If a meeting is called I would attend. When the impasse arose 30 years ago with some people trying to take over the Association, then Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm brought all parties together and we found common cause which has kept the carnival alive. As a result of the Congresswoman’s intervention we were able, for instance, to get the carnival panorama steel competition into the Brooklyn Museum and have the Sunday celebration which is still ongoing. I am not simply blaming outside forces for the problems today but some of our members who have not and are not acting wisely. This is a reflection of the crab in the barrel mentality which has affected us negatively for many years. We have to be careful that we don’t breakup a well-established entity. It would be to our detriment.”
Hazra Ali, a prominent member of the Trinidadian and Caribbean communities, said that as far back as 2003, a City-funded study of carnival’s impact had not showed the festival’s positive results, especially its financial benefits but had recommended several key steps to improve it.
“Unfortunately, almost a decade later the recommendations were not implemented but now we are hearing that it’s WIADCA’s intention to introduce some of them, including giving the costume bands and steel pans a role on the board,” Ali said. “If the current turmoil results in those recommendations being introduced then change in WIADCA would be a good thing.”
As in the case of Ali, Escalara would welcome changes, contending that the board and the Association needed professionals who could help market the carnival and assist in undertaking an aggressive fund-raising campaign.
“What’s also required is more transparency,” she insisted.