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J’Ouvert Celebration Canceled, NYC’s West Indian Day Festivities Take Hybrid Approach

The sights and sounds of one of the world’s largest celebrations of Caribbean culture have been impacted once again this Labor Day due to the pandemic — the second consecutive year plans have had to be altered to deal with the still-present health crisis.

New York City’s West Indian American Day Parade is one of the latest major events that had to be reorganized due to the ongoing fight against the coronavirus as delta variant cases skyrocket in the tri-state area and across the country.

Carnival organizers have made the decision that 2021 is not the year for a typical large-scale event, and so they have reimagined the carnival as a three-day celebration focusing on virtual and smaller in-person events taking place from Sept. 2 to 5.

“It is never easy for people to postpone a cherished tradition,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday. “But it’s the right thing to do and a great alternative has been put together.”

West Indian American Day Carnival Association Chairperson Michelle Gibbs said she is aware many people are “disheartened” that the carnival will not take place at the grand scale as pre-pandemic years.

“Unfortunately, our parade on Eastern Parkway is canceled, but that is not to say that Carnival is not going to continue in our spirit,” Gibbs said. “We are going to host several events behind the Brooklyn Museum starting this Thursday live and direct. This Thursday through this Monday behind the Brooklyn Museum.”

For decades, the annual parade has featured brightly costumed revelers, steel bands and thumping sound systems in New York City’s version of the Carnival celebrations held throughout the Caribbean.

The early morning hours before the parade feature a separate street party known as J’Ouvert, meant as a celebration of freedom from slavery.

But organizers of both events have been forced to adapt once again this year.

Calling the J’Ouvert festivities, “an amazing, powerful celebration of heritage,” de Blasio went on to say canceling the event was not an easy decision, but one that needed to be taken.

“[It’s] an amazing powerful celebration of heritage. One that is so important to so many New Yorkers, but that this year cannot happen the way it did pre-pandemic. It has been postponed again until 2022. But the J’Ouvert celebration will be back in 2022 full strength like so many things in this city,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday. “It’s never easy to decide such a cherished event needs to be postponed again. It’s never easy, but I want to thank all the community leaders, the elected officials, the clergy, everyone that came together and decided that this was the right thing to do to focus on the health and safety of the community.”

President of J’Ouvert City International President Yvette Rennie said they were “hoping to host our event this year, but the cons have overweighed the pros.”

Rennie went on to say that they looked “at the bigger picture here of the health, of the safety of our people and also followed the CDC and New York guidelines, and we have chosen to cancel again this year.”

New York City Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo told the public to please refrain from trying to reproduce Carnival or J’Ouvert in their own blocks or communities.

“We are strongly encouraging people not to try to have their own mini carnivals or their own mini-events or try to reproduce Carnival or J’Ouvert in your own way. It’s important that you recognize that the best way to celebrate this year is to celebrate with your family and your friends, small gatherings,” Cumbo said.

“Festivals like this, you usually bring in people from all over the world and we recognize that people from all over the world would be coming but not everybody is vaccinated, not everybody has taken the proper precautions and we want to protect our elders, as well as our young people who are going to be going back to school very soon,” Cumbo went on to say.

“It’s critical that we do this as safely as possible. So stay home this year, keeping it local, not trying to recreate J’Ouvert on your block or in your community, not trying to recreate the Labor Day parade…If you are interested in celebrating online, dress up, put your attire on, celebrate big, turn the music on, have a good time!”

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