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Metropolitan Black Bar Association increases involvement in West Indian Day Parade

September 5, 2017 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Metropolitan Black Bar Association has been working to increase its presence at the annual West Indian American Day Parade in Crown Heights. Pictured is MBBA President Paula Edgar (center) with Tracey Salmon-Smith and Shirley Paul. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese
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Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the West Indian American Day Parade made its way down Eastern Parkway and through Crown Heights on Monday with spectacular costumes on display. For the third year in a row, members of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association (MBBA) marched alongside it.

MBBA President Paula Edgar led a group of roughly a dozen attorneys, who mostly wore “Black Lawyers Matter” T-shirts, during the parade that drew more than one million people to Crown Heights including local politicians like Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Sen. Chuck Schumer.

“The celebration is fantastic. When I’m out there, I feel so great about our culture and community, particularly in the light of all of the hate and the repeal of DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals]. We saw so many people who were able to be out there in peace and love and celebrating the beauty of the Caribbean. That’s what it’s supposed to be about.”

Edgar explained that MBBA initially got involved as many of its members share a West Indian background, but she said that they are hoping to make a positive impact on the community.

“As a diverse bar, we are not just trying to affect the community, we are a part of the community,” Edgar said. “My family is from Jamaica and Barbados. Not only do we want this to be a wonderful event as leaders and lawyers, but also as community members and having more visibility, connect to other community groups that’s a good thing.

“People see us out here in our ‘Black Lawyers Matter’ t-shirts and it’s important,” Edgar continued. “It’s a conversation starter, given the numbers of black people in the legal community, we want to show that we encompass a segment of that and lawyers can look like us. We are a community resource.”

For the past three years, MBBA has marched alongside Cuomo, which made it impossible for it to ignore the violence connected to it, and especially J’Ouvert, a celebration that takes place the night before. That is because of Carey Gabay, the governor’s assistant counsel, who was shot to death at the festivities two years ago.

“Carey Gabay was a member of the black legal community who was killed, a Caribbean American, but we believe that the issue is not the Caribbean community,” Edgar said. “It’s the other folks who come in and want to celebrate and also commit crimes at that time.”

Since then, local politicians discussed canceling J’Ouvert (not the parade), but instead decided to move its start time from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. while also bringing a heavy NYPD presence.

Like many of the participants, Edgar had mixed reactions to the change of the start time.

“I’m a little conflicted on this,” Edgar admitted. “As a New Yorker and Brooklynite, I want everyone to be safe and I also understand J’Ouvert, the origins of it, you’re supposed to see day breaking. The word means ‘day break’ and moving it takes away some cultural significance.”

This year there was no violence connected to J’Ouvert, but police said that there was one stabbing and one shooting, but no deaths, near the parade route late on Monday. They did not say what the motivation of those crimes were, and did not say if the perpetrators were there attending the parade. No arrests were made.

Edgar was quick to point out that in the past the violence didn’t stem from those involved in the parade. Instead, supporters of the parade often claim that local gangs use the large crowds as excuses to settle scores.

“There should be more focus on our culture and less on violence that people try to affiliate with what is happening,” Edgar said. “There is so much more good than bad in this culture. Yesterday people stopped me, saw my shirt, and said, ‘Black Lawyers Matter, that’s awesome.’ We’re not doing this in response to J’Ouvert. We’re a part of the community and we want to affect change and be a resource.”


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