Miami Broward One Carnival Celebrate 30 years of Carnival in South Florida
By Jason Walker
Miami Broward One Carnival reaches a major milestone in 2014. Three decades is a long time for any area not based in the Caribbean to host the largest physical manifestation of Caribbean culture: Carnival. The name Miami Broward One Carnival reflects the historic unification of two Carnivals that were staged for several years in close proximity in South Florida, on the same day at the same time. Both events drew thousands of people and had stage shows and bands. The people, however, wanted one Carnival for the sake of unity, – everyone could partake in all that Carnival has to offer.
The vision of Carnival in South Florida 30 years ago has manifested itself into one of the most popular Caribbean events in North America. The Carnival even has hit songs that are about that Carnival, such as Alison Hind’s “Never Too Late For Carnival” featuring Trevor Offkey.
Joan Hickson is the chair of the organizing committee. Hickson thought back to “the first Carnival on NW 183rd Street. I was a member of the St. Lucia Association of South Florida. We became a band in the Carnival. I was actually the Queen of the Band one year. Since that time I have been involved in other bands – D’ Untouchables and D’ First Dimension. I was on the Board of the South Florida Bandleaders Association and Caribbean American Carnival, which later became Miami Carnival Inc. I have loved almost every minute of the last 30 years. It is an accomplishment that we were able to overcome everything and all come together to continue this beautiful event”.
Hickson also demonstrated the importance of joining both Miami and Broward Carnivals; “it is very important for us to have only one Carnival in this region”, she cited. “History has proven that we cannot afford more than one – financially, culturally or socially. It was hard for both organizations; we were accustomed to our independence, but as leaders of our community it was the only choice and it was the right choice.”
Kathryn D’arcy is a director on the organizing committee. D’arcy shared that this year the “theme is a celebration of the 30th Annual Miami Carnival. The first Miami Carnival was in 1985 in what is now the City of Miami Gardens.”
The late Selman Lewis took the helm of leadership in 1990 and with great fortitude, cunning, will power and strong support helped to guide the Carnival to be one of the most recognized in the world.
Getting to the milestone of 30 years is very important and has been very difficult. The Carnival organizing committee has to make sure all facets of the very large event are taken care of, that there is buy in from the non-Caribbean community, the governing municipalities of South Florida, and the other Carnivals to avoid conflicting schedules. D’arcy shared that doing this “is a personal triumph because of my history with Miami Carnival. I was not there in 1985, but I was in 1986 and every year since. I’ve been a bandleader, a mas player, a competitor, an onlooker and an organizer of Miami Carnival. I have seen and been a part of different facets of Carnival and from an organizational perspective I’ve seen every problem, every triumph over adversity – and there have been a lot of them.”
The Director of Marketing, John Beckford (formerly part of the Broward Carnival organizing committee), states that the Carnival means to him “embracing heritage and celebration of Caribbean arts and culture. It means food, drinks and music indigenous to the Caribbean. It means, getting together with friends and family if not for this one time each year…it means old man Winter is about to set in….” Hickson declares that, “I have loved almost every minute of the last 30 years. It is an accomplishment that we were able to overcome everything and all come together to continue this beautiful event.”
For it to last this long and still grow and be relevant is admirable, the question as to how it has lasted so long was posed to Hickson. She responded by saying “Our community loves Carnival. No matter where we are from, we all had Carnival at home, so it’s natural to want to show our kids and teach them our culture. Every year another thousand people discover Carnival and will bring their friends the following year.”
Miami Broward One Carnival has left enduring memories for all, memories that have seared into people’s subconscious to become lasting life images. Board members shared some of their memories; Beckford shared his most enduring memory which was a “A quiet conversation with Selman Lewis two days before he died, about how unity of Miami & Broward carnivals was the right thing to do…. Selman….miss him….”; Hickson adds, “… the memories of Selman Lewis are there. We called him “The Runner” because the rest of the Board had specific responsibilities but he was, overall, responsible for everything. Plus, Selman was too elegant to ever run. The name was our private joke. I always loved seeing the Kings, Queens and Individuals on stage, especially when we did the show at the Coconut Grove Convention Center and they had a big stage to perform on. The Junior Carnivals are good memories. I loved it when the steelbands came from T&T and people just chipped along smiling and happy.” D’arcy remembers “Wet Mih Down” playing while masqueraders jumped up on stage in pouring rain in Miami Beach; sitting on the wall of Hialeah Park watching the masqueraders pass; the heat at carnival parties in Studio 183 and Travelodge; Sherman Helmsley (“Mr. Jefferson”) jumping up on stage at the Convention Center; a City of Miami Policeman pushing pan on stage at Bicentennial Park; TanTan and Saga Boy at Pier 1 in Miami Beach; the perfection of D’ First Dimension Mas Band; all mas bands, steelbands, Junior bands and J’Ouvert bands that make up Carnival.”
The Carnival brings thousands of persons to South Florida consistently from across North and South America, the Caribbean, Africa and even Europe. It is a huge boost to the South Florida economy, a great plug for Florida tourism and a fantastic display of Caribbean Culture. Caribbean and Non-Caribbean people get engaged in the Carnival in diverse ways. They are not just standing on the sides and grooving to music anymore, they are becoming a part of the show joining bands, putting on costumes and fully becoming part of the Carnival. There are Caribbean and non-Caribbean people volunteering to help with the organizing of the Carnival. According to Beckford, “some embrace carnival and are curious of the diversity. Thanks to TV, Internet and World Travel, more non-Caribbean folks explore and embrace Carnival. Each year I see non-Caribbean numbers grow in attendance”
There are many aspects for people to enjoy and be engaged in. Patron and Reveller Nicole Williams who makes the trek from New York City states that “my favourite part would be the beginning when we start to march”; Miami Native Rhavi Bharath eloquently points out that “the Carnival bliss in that moment of sweet soca, alcohol, stunning women and scenic ecstasy was a time forever etched in my subconscious.” There are also masquerade bands that will travel thousands of miles to partake of Miami Broward One Carnival. Garth George and his Fusion Karnival Band out of New York is such band. According to Trinidad & Tobago born George Fusion Karnival masquerade band is one of the largest to come out of New York and he states that “Miami Broward (One) Carnival is the last bacchanal getaway of the summer before the main event in T&T to get ready again for another year”.
The Carnival engages various people in many areas. When asked about this phenomenon D’arcy expounds that “there are cashiers, Marshalls to direct the parade, people to work with the vendors, marketing needs people to service the sponsors, we have PR volunteers tweeting and instagramming at every event. These are just some of the people who work with Carnival. From an attendance point-of-view, it’s exciting to see the promise of diversity play out on our stage. Every color, creed and race is on the road, but in addition the age differential is amazing in that nobody is too young or too old to play mas. We have masqueraders in wheelchairs; we have LGBT masqueraders; anyone and everyone is welcome as a masquerader or attendee. We are truly diverse and that is the true pageantry and spectacle of Carnival.”
Looking back at the three decades it is hard to separate Selman Lewis from the memories. Hickson shared that “Selman Lewis is the cerebral founder of Carnival. The WIADCA Committee founded Carnival in 1985. In 1990 Selman Lewis took the Carnival and dragged it to a higher level. He formed alliances which brought Brooklyn and other cities to Miami in record numbers. He started the Coconut Grove Convention Center parties. He started doing a Carnival Launch. He then started doing an Official Launch of Miami Carnival in T&T. He was the brainchild behind the beautiful brochures which many Carnival produce. He had a unique mind and the ability to communicate which allowed him to dominate every meeting and every group, and to get people to agree with his viewpoints. He formed the first “Junior Board” with the intent of having a group of younger people to take over Carnival. His policies and procedures are still used today. He was a Carnival Genius.”
Miami Broward One Carnival celebrating 30 years should be a powerful display of Caribbean culture, expression and, yes, unity. The Carnival will be in two parts the Miami Broward Junior Carnival will be held on Sunday, October 5, 2014 at the Central Broward Regional Park & Cricket Stadium (3700 NW 11th Pl, Lauderhill, FL 33311) and on Sunday, October 12, 2014 there will be the staging of the Miami Broward Parade of Bands, 30 Years Celebration at the Miami-Dade County Fairgrounds, 10901 Coral Way, Miami, Fl 33165. For more information visit www.miamibrowardcarnival.com.
Jason Walker is a freelance writer for Caribbean Today Magazine who has had an award winning journalism career that spans 20 years. He can be followed on twitter at www.twitter.com/jasonwalker_ or emailed at email@example.com