Sep 6, 2022
The West Indian Day Parade and J’Ouvert return to Brooklyn after two years
The annual celebration, back after years of Covid cancellations, turned the borough into a colorful dawn-to-dusk party
For two years in a row the pandemic forced the cancellation of one of Brooklyn’s premier annual traditions, the dawn-to-dusk celebration on Labor Day thrown by the city’s West Indian population.
Monday the party was back, starting with J’Ouvert at 6 a.m. on Empire Boulevard, which continued throughout the day and into the evening with the massive West Indian American Day Parade on Eastern Parkway.
“We’re back in full force,” Crown Heights resident Kettura Luke, marching with the President Street Posse at J’Ouvert, told Brooklyn Magazine. “I’m out to have a very good time today. I didn’t stay up all night though. I took a nap! I’m not that young anymore! I wanted to be nice and refreshed so I could go the whole day.”
J’Ouvert, which derives from the French phrase for “break of day” and has its roots in the emancipation of enslaved people in the Caribbean, actually starts anytime after midnight at innumerable gatherings around the neighborhood, but the official event began at 6 a.m. at Grand Army Plaza, and continued along Empire Boulevard.
There the steel-pan bands got the crowd jumping, paint and motor oil were splashed, the folkloric costumes were resplendent in their elegance. The Jab Molassie character, with devil horns and smeared with oil to represents enslavers, was represented throughout.
Still, there was a subdued element to the proceedings compared to years past — in spite of the estimated two million revelers. There was nostalgia for the days before the NYPD barricades, checkpoints and metal detectors. “Before it was way better than this” said Gregory Bodie of Flatbush, who said he’s been coming here for 22 years with the Kutters. “You had more people out, you had more bands out, more vendors out. There’s nothing out here now but cops. There’s more cops than bands out here, that’s the problem. It’s all about intimidation.”
The West Indian Day Parade followed J’Ouvert, though this, too, got off to a slow start. The 11 a.m step-off time on Eastern Parkway at Utica Avenue may have happened close to schedule, but the really fun stuff (after the NYPD, FDNY, DOC, and countless politicians) didn’t start passing the big crowds around Nostrand and down to Grand Army Plaza until nearly three hours later.
Here are a few scenes from the day.
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