Howard University President and Appellate Term Justice honored at Caribbean-American Heritage Month event

July 6, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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In a vibrant blend of culture, intellectual discourse, and revelry, the Kings County Supreme Court hosted its 6th annual Caribbean-American Heritage Month program this past Friday.

The event, themed “Colonialism – Divorcing the Crown,” took place at the Court’s Criminal Term located at 320 Jay Street and was filled with captivating performances, eloquent speeches, and an air of celebration marking the significant contributions of the Caribbean-American community.

Showcasing Caribbean culture: A display of vibrant artwork by a local Brooklyn artist at the Caribbean-American Heritage Month event.

As a part of the day’s proceedings, the Court’s Caribbean-American Heritage Month Committee, chaired by Hon. Wavny Toussaint, presiding justice of the Appellate Term for Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island, welcomed esteemed guests including Dr. Wayne Frederick, president of Howard University, and other notable figures from the judicial and educational sectors.

The ceremony was opened by the mistress of ceremonies, Judge Sharon Bourne-Clarke, who donned the symbolic Guyana gold and Barbados blue. One of the ceremony’s highlights was an original poem by 13-year-old Trinidadian poet Amarillo Spring. Judge Clarke read the poem and the young poet’s words filled the hall.

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“I’m so glad that you gave me a chance, a thirteen-year-old girl,” said Spring.

Judge Sharon Bourne-Clarke, adorned in symbolic Guyana gold and Barbados blue, captures the room’s attention as she recites the poignant words of 13-year-old Trinidadian poet Amarillo Spring.

Amidst the musical performances and speeches, a special introduction was made by Lisette Morales of a student from M.S. 340 in Brooklyn, Ariella Powell and teacher Ricardo Jerome. Powell performed the National Anthem and Black National Anthem on steel drums, which brought a taste of the Caribbean to the occasion.

“Let this program be an education and inspiration,” remarked Charles Small, chief clerk of the Kings County Supreme Court, Civil Term. His sentiment was echoed by Hon. Edwina Richardson Mendelson, who expressed delight at participating in such an event that promoted cultural understanding.

District Attorney Eric Gonzalez highlighted the importance of such cultural events in building community trust in the judicial system.

“We have all brought that cultural pride. The Caribbean people are not monolithic, but there is one culture that we support, a culture that comes from the Caribbean and we have brought it here to Brooklyn,” said Gonzalez.

District Attorney Eric Gonzalez addressing the importance of cultural events for building community trust in the judicial system.

A key highlight of the event was Dr. Wayne Frederick’s speech. As a tireless advocate for social justice, equity, and inclusion, and president of Howard University, Dr. Frederick’s words carried great weight. “Each of us has an opportunity every single day to change the circumstances of the person who stands before us,” he urged.

Dr. Wayne Frederick, President of Howard University, delivering his powerful speech as part of the Kings County Supreme Court hosted its 6th annual Caribbean-American Heritage Month program.
The Food Committee at the Caribbean-American Heritage Month event (from left to right): Rachel Walcott, Tawanna St. Louis, Celestin Felix, Chanel Lewis, Natoya McGhie, and Betsey Jean-Jacques.

While addressing the theme of the day, Dr. Frederick spoke passionately about the concept of colonialism and the path to “divorce the crown”. “Changing big systems starts with each of us, and each of us making an effort,” said Dr. Frederick.

Reflecting on his favorite Caribbean vacation spot, Montego Bay, Jamaica, he said, “I’ve probably been to every single Caribbean Island and there is not one that I haven’t fallen in love with.”

Dr. Frederick also touched on the controversial topic of Affirmative Action. “We already have misplaced resources, institutional racism that will not afford an opportunity for Black students to compete on par,” he noted. “We represent only three percent of the higher education institutions, but we are responsible for 25% of the bachelor’s degrees among Black students,” he added, highlighting the crucial role historically black colleges and universities play in American higher education.

The event also marked the honor bestowed on Justice Wavny Toussaint. Natasha DeLille, who hails from Haiti and the Dominican Republic, gave a secret award to Justice Toussaint. She commended Justice Toussaint’s extensive career, from working for Corporate Counsel and in private practice to her appointment as an Appellate Term Justice.

Hon. Wavny Toussaint receiving a surprise award for her extensive contributions to the judicial community.

In her acceptance speech, Justice Toussaint spoke of her pride in her Caribbean heritage and her commitment to serving her community. She thanked the committee for the honor and remarked on the powerful words of Dr. Frederick, “Whatever happens with these Supreme Court decisions, I know that Howard will be stronger and our country will be stronger because you served as president,” she said.

The program wrapped up on a high note with a clear sense of unity, a celebration of Caribbean-American heritage, and a resolution to foster an environment of equity and justice.

A moment of celebration: Hon. Wavny Toussaint posing with the event speakers, including Hon. Edwina Richardson-Mendelson (far right), after being honored with an award.
Hon. Inga O’Neale, immersed in the day’s vibrant blend of culture, intellectual discourse, and revelry at the Kings County Supreme Court.
Lisette Morales bringing a slice of Caribbean culture to the Kings County Supreme Court.
Hon. Claudia Daniels-DePeyster during the proceedings of the Caribbean-American Heritage Month celebration.
Hon. Lawrence Knipel (left), administrative judge of the Kings County Supreme Court, Civil Term, with Hon. Matthew D’Emic, administrative judge of the Supreme Court, Criminal Term.


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