Brooklyn courts celebrate Caribbean-American Heritage Month
The Kings County Supreme Court recently hosted its second annual Caribbean-American Heritage Month Celebration at the courthouse on Jay Street Wednesday afternoon. The event was co-sponsored by the Brooklyn Bar Association, the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association, the Judicial Friends Association and the Tribune Society.
The theme for this year’s party was “Caribbean Immigration and its Cultural Impact,” and the keynote speaker was Jamila Lyiscott, a spoken-word artist and an assistant professor of social justice education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
The first Caribbean-American Heritage event at the courts held last year when Justices Hon. Sylvia Hinds-Radix and Hon. Sylvia Ash, along with Justice Ruth Shillingford and many others, decided that the court was lacking an event marking Caribbean Heritage Month.
“We saw the necessity for it, so we decided to get involved and get it started last year, which brings us here,” said Justice Hinds-Radix, who is from Barbados and refers to herself as Grenadian-by-marriage.
That dynamic duo served as the masters of ceremonies last year, but this year they passed off that honor to Sharifa John and Celeste E. Felix.
“This celebration marks a cultural evolution where we have reached a point of proudly celebrating our Caribbean heritage,” Felix said. “This is our opportunity to recognize, acknowledge and honor those whose shoulders we stood on and continue to stand on while also sharing our music, culture, values and the food with the court.”
John and Felix introduced court officers with origins from the Caribbean islands. They then gave a crash course to clear up some common misconceptions about Caribbean people.
“Gayana is not Ghana. One is in South America, the other is in Africa,” Felix said. “Trinidad and Tobago are one country. And Tobago is pronounced Toe-bay-go, not Toe-bog-o.”
“Barbados, Barbuda and Bermuda are three separate countries, and while we’re at it, let’s throw in the Bahamas too,” John said. “Grenada is not ‘Granata.’ Grenada is an island and Granada is a city in Spain. Haiti is part of an island called Hispaniola that is made up of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Finally, everyone with a Caribbean accent is not Jamaican.”
A number of judges spoke at the event including Hon. Lawrence Marks, administrative judge of the Kings County Supreme Court, Civil Term; Hon. Margarita Lopez Torres; Hon. John Ingram; Hon. Alan Scheinkman, presiding justice of the Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department; and Charles Small, chief clerk for Civil Matters. Hon. Wavny Toussaint provided the closing remarks.
Throughout the event, there was music and dancing, and the Sesame Carnival Flyers showed off their impressive costumes, though they were not to be outdone by Justices Ash and Hinds-Radix, who both changed their headdresses throughout the event. Afterward, there was Caribbean food shared for all of the court employees.
But not before Lyiscott gave a profound speech about how her Caribbean heritage shaped her experience growing up in Crown Heights and America.
“When I went to school and saw the pressure people had to erase their accents and other evidence of their culture to be accepted, I was wildly disturbed,” Lyiscott said. “When I opened my history books and saw little to no nuance on how American history and culture has been shaped by the huge Caribbean migration to America in the early 20th century, I was disturbed.
[There was] barely a word on Stokely Carmichael or Marcus Garvey or Arthur Schomburg or others.”
Then Lyiscott issued a call to action for those in the audience.
“In order to truly honor our Caribbean influence, we cannot reduce its value to moments of celebration,” she said. “We cannot slip into the logic that there is an appropriate time for cultural expression and an appropriate time for cultural erasure. Instead, we must ensure that in our everyday work, and in our everyday world, the true diversity of America, this nation of immigrants, is sustained.”
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