New York City will be forced to go without its usual larger-than-life West Indian Day Parade and J’ouvert celebrations this Labor Day weekend because of COVID concerns. Organizers are determined to preserve the essence of Carnival Week nonetheless with multiple smaller events.
The West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA) confirmed that the main parade will be postponed until 2022 and that they are pivoting celebrations for now. Starting this Thursday, Sept. 2 through Monday, Sept. 6, WIADCA has put together festivities behind the Brooklyn Museum to show off countries’ costumes, music, and culture.
“Behind the museum we have parties and concerts lined up and all through Monday,” said Rhea Smith, media lead at WIADCA. “And on Monday the traditional costume wearers and masqueraders, which I am one of them. While we may not be able to [parade] on the parkway, we can do it behind the museum.”
Smith said that COVID protocols for planned events will require vaccination cards, negative test results, and masks to get in and participate.
“The borough president believes the city and organizers of the event made the right decision,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adam’s Office about the postponements.
In Mayor Bill de Blasio’s press briefing on Monday, President of J’ouvert City International Yvette Rennie also told the city about the postponement of official J’ouvert celebrations in the wee hours of the morning going into Labor Day.
“But the J’ouvert celebration will be back in 2022, full strength, like so many other things in this city. Never easy to decide that such a cherished event needs to be postponed again, it’s never easy,” said de Blasio.
The J’ouvert early morning mas is an event that takes months of pre-planning, band rehearsals and creating the costumes worn by revelers. Funds are usually raised throughout the year to promote the event, but with this year and last year’s pandemic, fundraising opportunities came to a screeching halt, said Rennie.
Upcoming plans for an alternate J’ouvert include a walking tour of historical buildings along the traditional route in Flatbush and East Flatbush, said Rennie. “We’re going to have our young people do the tour and a video and send it out. We are still concerned because not everyone took the vaccine or wanted to wear masks,” said Rennie.
The youth tour will start at the Brooklyn Public Library and Grand Army Plaza arch, then conclude at the recently discovered African Burial Ground at the corner of Church and Bedford Avenues.
Of course, postponements may not discourage people from turning up in the streets anyways. This is Carnival in Brooklyn after all.
“People will be,” said Rennie. “That’s the nature of our culture, and the police commissioner has things in place because naturally it will happen, but it won’t come under the banner of J’ouvert International or WIADCA.”
“I encourage those who are thinking about celebrating J’ouvert despite the cancellation of the official event, to instead direct their energy into planning for the 2022 ‘rebirth’ celebration, where we can be together safely,” said Assemblymember and County Chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn.
Bichotte Hermelyn said the best way to celebrate Caribbean culture this year is to keep loved ones safe from any threats posed by the Delta variant of COVID-19, particularly in communities with underlying health risks and low vaccination rates.
“For individuals who do decide to participate in unofficial events, I encourage you to get vaccinated, wear a mask, keep your distance and make smart decisions,” said Bichotte Hermelyn.
Get your tickets today on Eventbrite or www.carnival.nyc.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w