‘Ancestors’ return to island tribute

Tribute to ancestors Coney Island.
Tribute to ancestors Coney Island.

It’s been two years since People of the Sun Middle Passage Collective visited the waters of Coney Island to pay “Tribute to the Ancestors” but the 33rd annual event will return to Ancestors Circle at 16th St. on June 11.

The cultural organizers who in conjunction with Medgar Evers College Student Government Association annually acknowledge African trailblazers and “ancestors known and unknown” were forced to cancel the June ritual which begins at noon on the boardwalk and ends at dusk after ancestral drumming leads a path across the sandy beach to the Atlantic Ocean.

Due to Covid-19 and the global pandemic caused by the virus, in its absence a long list of Africans were deprived public farewell funerals and the seaside ceremony that defines their heritage.

Now those will be regaled with dance, music, spoken word performances and floral offerings.

The pouring of libation will mark the start of events held to honor ancestors who transitioned in 2020, 2021, the worst of the pandemic years — former Mayor David N. Dinkins and his wife Joyce, Cong. John Lewis, former State Senator Waldaba Stewart, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, reggae icons Toots Hibbert, Lee Scratch Perry, Denroy Morgan, Bunny Wailer, U-Roy, actress Cicely Tyson, actor Michael K. Williams, comedian Paul Mooney, rapper DMX, radioman Gil Bailey and others.

While some transitioned from natural causes, unforeseen circumstances and the deadly virus, disproportionate losses of life limited funeral ceremonies and public tributes. A rollcall in their honor will likely complete the day’s itinerary.

“Right now I cannot say for sure that I will attend the tribute. I am still being cautious and have no inclination to hurry to go out,” Habte Selassie, a former emcee of the annual said.

The host of WBAI-FM’s Friday “Labbrish” explained that while it would be a great opportunity to commune with friends and survivors of the global pandemic, before venturing to any public gathering he will closely observe scientific indicators related to the pandemic.

Filmmaker Roy T. Anderson expressed similar concerns but seemed more enthusiastic about attending the ritual. The stuntman/actor/director said he planned to support the ancestral celebrations by following mask protocols while implementing common sense.

Anderson considers the annual an integral tradition, it was there that he stood knee-deep in the Atlantic while holding a camera to focus on ceremonial drumming and dancing in order to capture footage for his “African Redemption” documentary about Jamaica’s first national hero.

During the peak months of the coronavirus Anderson double-masked regularly to film Black Lives Matter demonstrations following the murders of Floyd and Taylor.

His document on the life of Marcus Garvey will include those scenes and is slated to premiere on the hero’s birthday on Aug. 17.

“I intend to be there,” Anderson said, “I’m glad they are returning.”

The free, outdoor, event offers an opportunity for Blacks to unite, marvel, celebrate and acknowledge the contribution of trailblazers, friends and relatives who are no longer present and may be their source of inspiration.

Patrons are asked to dress in white or African prints, bring flowers and most importantly exude positive vibrations.

The event comes one week before Juneteenth when national celebrations mark the abolition of slavery on June 19 and also regales the martyrs and descendants who endured brutality inflicted since Africans were taken against their will from the continent they were born by profiteers and capitalists.

The Coney Island ritual parodies an Emancipation Day Panafest event held in Cape Coast, Ghana, Africa where on Aug. 1 nationals retrace the atrocities of Europeans and also commemorate ancestors who were sold into slavery, crossed the treacherous ocean across the Middle Passage; and despite white supremacy surpassed expectations to emerge trailblazers and role models.

Prominent Africans often hailed include: Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Malcolm X and wife Betty Shabazz, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and wife Coretta Scott, Cong. Shirley Chisholm, comedian/actor Richard Pryor, rappers Tupac Shakur, Christopher Wallace aka Notorious B.I.G., musicians Robert Nesta Marley, Prince Rogers Nelson, Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendricks, heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, TV broadcaster Gil Noble, folk legend Louise Bennett-Coverley, former Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley and his father Norman, actor Chadwick Boseman and a long list of super-achievers.

Although those who were sold into slavery are integral to the celebration, African ancestors across the globe will be regaled — including former South African President Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie, former Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah — and others who lived their entire lives in Africa but endured colonial oppression and racism; surviving to surpass obstacles by exceeding expectations.

And while identifiable names might prevail during these ceremonies, the life of every African descendant will be meaningfully remembered.

As libation is poured attendees will be able to utter the names of beloved ones who have been elevated to the ancestral realm.

A special remembrance prayer will likely pay tribute to upstate Black grocery shoppers who were recently gunned down by an avowed white supremacist and racist murderer who ambushed the Buffalo 10.

Participants are encouraged to bring photographs and memorabilia for personal tributes.

For more information, call Akeem (718)659-4999 or email [email protected]

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