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Posted by Ricardo Kaulessar, Urban Times News on August 15, 2003 at 15:26:15:

Caribbean parade first time on MLK Drive

Urban Times News

by Ricardo Kaulessar -

The 8th Annual Caribbean Carnival/Festival that took place on Saturday, July 26th had some new wrinkles as opposed to past years.

For instance, the marchers and trucks for the parade this year gathered at Audubon Park on Bergen Avenue instead of Lincoln Park on the Kennedy Boulevard side. Also, the parade route previously went from Lincoln Park, down Kennedy Boulevard and then onto Montgomery Street all the way to Exchange Place, where the festival took place.

But this year, the parade started from Audubon Park, going up Stegman Street, running into MLK Drive. It then proceeded through most of MLK Drive into Monticello Avenue, with a short ride through Orchard Street, then into Montgomery Street, ending up at Exchange Place.

A three mile-plus mile parade in ninety degree heat, almost reminiscent of the road marches that take place at the various Caribbean carnivals around the world, with parade floats and marchers representing such Caribbean islands as Haiti, Trinidad & Tobago and Panama.

According to Cheryl DB Murphy, the President/Founder/CEO of the Jersey City West Indian/Caribbean-American Carnival Association, the decision to lengthen the parade route was made after last year’s parade by the committee that organizes the parade.

“(The committee) wanted to include all areas and all cultures. After last year’s parade, we felt we were cutting off a great portion of Jersey City. The city supported the idea of the committee and we went through three districts of Jersey City this year”, said Murphy.

Murphy, a native of Bermuda who has lived in Jersey City for many years, cited that many of the supporters and sponsors of this parade, live along MLK Drive and the Lafayette Section in general.

For those spectators standing or sitting outside their homes, apartment buildings and storefronts, seeing the Caribbean parade going down this road made for a pleasant surprise on a Saturday afternoon, as many Caribbean and non-Caribbean residents found themselves dancing (or wining as it is called in the Caribbean), or even going along on the march.

One of those enjoying the parade was Yvonne Dassell, the owner of the Jamaican-American Finger Licking Kitchen Restaurant on 287 Martin Luther King Drive. A native of Jamaica who has run this restaurant for the past 13 years, she appreciated the parade being exposed to many Martin Luther King residents for the first time.

“It’s a difference, it lets the other people realize what is a West Indian parade. Most people don’t know about it”, said Dassell.

Tearethea Sims, another resident of MLK Drive who was watching the parade with her children was a little more critical of the festivities.

“My opinion about the Caribbean parade is that it was too short and when they had the Martin Luther King parade, they had the streets cleaned and there were no cars parked, what’s the difference with this parade. They could’ve made it longer”, said Sims.

Many of the those participating in the parade weren’t just Caribbean-based celebrants but also local talent. The Jersey City Chill Town Steppers and Drum Corps, a youth group of dancers and drummers from Jersey City and other N.J. cities who entertained the thousands of viewers along the parade route. “I love all the different groups, I love being here. And as far as the changing of route, that’s not a problem. The girls in the group love entertaining”, responded Sallie Daise, the President/CEO/Founder of the Chill Town Steppers since its inception in 1994.

Also in the parade were Grand Marshals including Mayor Glenn D. Cunningham and First Lady Sandra Bolden Cunningham, Panamian Hilda Diaz, Wanda Rodriguez from Puerto Rico, Ann Tripp from radio station WLIB, and George Wilson, the Hudson County Under sheriff from Jersey City.

“It’s great to be out here celebrating the heritage of the Caribbean-American community, who has the same heritage as African-Americans. All of our ancestors came from Africa and came to these islands and this country. Today we’re all together, making Jersey City a better place”, said Mayor Cunningham.

Later in the day, performances began on the Festival Main Stage at Exchange Place. As is the case every year, there seems to be even more carnival-goers than on the parade route since vendors set up their tents to sell everything from Caribbean dishes such as curry goat with rice and peas to official flags of the various Caribbean countries.

Awards were given out in such categories as Caribbean Heritage Band and African-American Heritage Band, with local groups such as the J.C. Chilltown Steppers and Jersey City Dominican Organization each receiving for their respective performances. Also performing at the festival were local Caribbean singers and dancehall performers from the tri-state area like Mystic, Ziggy Ranking, DeRose, Meshach and Twiggy.

As Cheryl Murphy pointed out, the festival/carnival/parade is a year-round endeavor and there’s usually a kickoff event that occurs in April where the awards will be given and where those who will performing or volunteering in the upcoming carnival/festival would have the opportunity to network as well as meet those on the committee which organizes the event every year.

For more information, please contact Cheryl Murphy at (201) 434-0476 and (973) 371-2442.

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