Caribbean nationals salute heritage with honors

Caribbean nationals salute heritage with honors
Grenada’s Film Commissioner Ellen Bishop Spielman (sister of former prime minister Maurice Bishop) Marva Griffiths Herman, founder of Caribbean Heritage Organization and honoree Grenadian Yvette Noel Schure.
Photo by Vinette K. Pryce

Los Angeles, California — Caribbean-Americans in California marked the 30-day presidential proclamation (since 2006) that declares June, National Caribbean-American Heritage Month by hosting a gala awards dinner and launching a film festival dedicated to the diasporan tribute.

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of Caribbean-American Heritage Month with a Caribbean Heritage Salute to Hollywood & Excellence gala a week-long series of events paid tribute to the unique culture.

Buoyed by the perceptive efforts of Jamaican-American Marva Griffiths Herman, founder and executive director of Caribbean Heritage Organization, a myriad of laudatory events paid tribute to Caribbean nationals — primarily on the west coast — who have excelled in various aspects of their pursuit.

Herman founded the organization dedicated to hyphenated Caribbean immigrants in 2007 — one year after Congress approved the June designation.

Prior to the national proclamation, she had successfully led a grassroots campaign to enable a month-long acknowledgement of Caribbean-Americans in Los Angeles. Since then, her Caribbean Heritage Salute to Hollywood & Excellence has become the go-to event during the month. And along with Dr. Claire Nelson they are credited with spearheading a petition and movement that led to the congressional approval.

According to Nelson, a Jamaican-American, CHO is now in 18 cities.

During the gala held at the Hilton Universal Hotel, she explained why June is celebrated with Caribbean pageantry and pride.

In her inimitable, Jamaican patois she informed patrons that when deciding a time-frame to honor immigrants from the Caribbean, only summer months were considered.

She said an elimination process excluded the months of May, because of Cinco de Mayo; July, due to America’s celebrated independence day focus on the fourth, August, because celebrations of independence for Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica would interfere and said she was not about to lobby against New York’s September huge revelry on Labor Day by offering the month.

She explained that June seemed the most appropriate because no Caribbean island marked any significant occasion during the month of June and with significant assistance from Senator Charles Schumer was able to get the approval of the Congress.

Nelson boasted some of the achievements of her birth-island saying there are “five Jamaicans in the White House.”

She added that because of their influence they must have schooled President Barack Obama on how to greet Jamaicans saying, “Wha ah gwaan massive” when he addressed them on the island.

Nelson emceed the proceeding and introduced fellow Jamaican, V.S. Russell, an actor who provided folk interpretation of the island’s favorite folk hero, Brer Ananacy.

She also presented Urim 7, a reggae group that offered a musical menu which included Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.”

Jamaica’s culture seemed to penetrate many aspects of the presentation and was evident when Kingston, Jamaica born Talitha Watkins, a corporate executive received the Corporate Leadership Award.

She is a vice president of multicultural marketing at Universal Pictures.

Haitian guitarist Paul Beaubrun practically created a firestorm with his pacific performance. Although he mesmerized singing “Eyes on” it was solo creole rendition of Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” that truly resonated with patrons. Beaubrun was superlative.

The evening’s program also included dance renditions from Michelle St. Louis and Caribbean Breeze.

The cultural group danced a variety of telling programs and included a spirited routine of “Pocomania” performed to the music of reggae group, Chalice.

And Haiti could have taken the pride prize when Dr. Henri Ford, a pediatric surgeon accepted his Humanitarian Award. Presented by his son who delivered a touching Father’s Day tribute before handing him the Lucite trophy, Dr. Ford recently made history by separating conjoined twins in Haiti. He is the first to perform the surgical procedure on the island. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti at age 13 fled with his family to the USA where he settled in Brooklyn. He now resides in Los Angeles, California.

Senator Brenda Hood, Grenada’s Minister of Culture flew in for the celebrations. Along with Ellen R. Bishop-Spielman they championed a cheerleading party for Spice Island native Yvette Noel-Schure who received the Trailblazer Award.

Also present were Attalah Shabazz, the eldest daughter of Dr. Betty Shabazz and El Hajj Malik AKA Malcolm X who reportedly has roots in Grenada.

Actor Glynn Turman and his wife attended the gala to show support for their friend Dawn Lewis, an actress who is best known for her role on the television series “A Different World.”

Lewis, whose parents migrated to Brooklyn from Guyana received the Heritage Award.

Antigua’s Egbert Perry received the visionary award.

And Caiphus Moore of Trinidad and Tobago was celebrated for excellence in visual arts.

During the week-long celebration, the CHO launched Caribbean Lens, a film festival that paid tribute to thespians – Harry Belafonte, Cicely Tyson and Sidney Poitier. On opening night, screenings of their films included: Tyson’s “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” Belafonte’s “Island In the Sun” and Poitier’s “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.”

Supported by the islands of the Bahamas, Antigua Tourism Authority, Grenada Tourism Authority and the Grenada Film Commission, the festival included workshops, panel discussions and previewed the inaugural Grenada film festival.

Additional Caribbean participants included: Cadrin E. Gill, honorary consul general of St. Vincent & The Grenadines to Los Angeles and Roland H. Yorke, consul general of Belize to LA.

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