With its motto, “We’re Blessed to be a Blessing”, the United Vincie Cultural Group of Brooklyn (UVCGB) has been a blessing, over the years, to patrons and supporters in the New York Diaspora and beneficiaries in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The nonprofit 501(c)(3) cultural group – which was founded in 2003 by Dr. Roxie Irish-Morris, an ordained evangelical minister and former national netball star in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and other members – has been conducting cultural performances, primarily in Brooklyn, in raising much-needed funds to help address the healthcare needs in the homeland.
The group comprises about 20 Vincentians, of diverse ages and backgrounds, from the Vincentian Diaspora of New York and New Jersey.
Dr. Irish-Morris, also a youth minister at the Miracle Temple Ministries, an evangelical church in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, said UVCGB’s goals are primarily to donate medical supplies and equipment to clinics and hospitals in St. Vincent and the Grenadines “in order to enhance healthcare in the country”, as well as to “promote Vincy culture throughout North America and elsewhere, via folk songs, chorale speeches, skits, storytelling, plays, poems, dancing,” among others, which the group performs at concerts, prayer breakfasts, Christmas serenades, etc., and, at the same time, “help raise funds for donations.”
In addition, Dr. Irish-Morris said UVCGB generally assists “Vincentians everywhere, who are in dire medical or financial need.”
She said UVCGB also performs for “good causes” at many functions organized by other charitable groups in the US.
In May 2017, after singing and performing folk songs for 14 years, UVCGB finally produced and launched its first CD.
Dr. Irish-Morris said that the CD, labeled, “Keep We Culture Alive,” is a “dream come true for us. Very momentous, indeed!
“We give God praise for His continued favor on this ministry,” she told Caribbean Life exclusively after the launching ceremony, at the group’s annual fund-raising Tea Party, at the Golden Hall, at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal (Anglican) Church, on Hawthorne Street in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.
“This is only the beginning,” added Irish. “We’re working very hard; we have materials in the making. The mission has always been to furnish medical supplies to our homeland, but, in the process, we’re on a quest to promote our culture.”
The CD – which comprises 11 folk songs, including “Keep We Culture Alive,” written by recently-joined member Ada Johnson, a former school teacher and High Court Registrar in St. Vincent and the Grenadines – was masterminded by Gordon “Don” Sutherland, a cultural figure, who joined the group in 2014, and fellow compatriot Randolph “Randy” Liverpool, UVCGB director.
Except for “Moonlight,” all songs on CD were written by the trio – all former teachers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. They can be considered cultural icons in their own right. Sutherland was co-founder, lead guitarist and song writer for the Georgetown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines-based Affetuosos Band of yesteryears. One of the popular songs Sutherland wrote for Affetuosos was “Children of the Caribbean: We All Are One.”
“Moonlight” was recorded as a tribute to the late and legendary composer, Alban Henry, a former head teacher in Georgetown, Liverpool said.
The UVCG Folk Choir performed three of the songs on the CD at the launching ceremony: “SVG Diaspora,” written by Liverpool, “The Amazing Breadfruit,” written by Johnson, and “SVG Swaree,” written by Sutherland.
Other songs on the CD are: “Vincentian Local Dish,” “Dis is Crop Over,” “Hairouna, Hairouna,” and “Ole Time Fashion Never Die,” written by Sutherland; and “Where De Good Childhood Days Gone” and “Calling Lis,” written by Liverpool.
“The event was well-attended and supported by the public,” said Johnson of the Tea Party and CD Launch. “Feedback from attendees was predominantly positive, despite some operational hiccups.
“Feedback highlighted the energy, dramatizations, synchronization and dancing that were effectively demonstrated by the choir,” added the former superintendent in the Royal Bermuda Police Force. “The lyrics and the melodious music of the songs were also greatly applauded.
“The success accomplished by the UVCGB on their CD project was truly a team effort,” he continued. “Kudos to president, Dr. Roxie Irish (Morris), the entire membership of the UVCGB, engineer Ozzy Sutherland [Don Sutherland’s son], and all volunteers for their relentless hard work and significant contributions for a job well done.”
Liverpool said UVCGB is “determined and will continue to keep Vincie culture alive, through folk songs, drama and choral speech, and, at the same time, will pursue the charitable cause of using any funds that are raised by the group to provide medical supplies and equipment to hospitals and clinics in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
Sutherland agreed, adding: “We have one common goal — to keep our culture alive for SVG (St. Vincent and the Grenadines) and to give the proceeds from the CD to the rural clinics in SVG.”
In September 2017, UVCGB honored Sutherland during its Annual Cultural Show, at Meyer Levin Intermediate School — the usual venue for its concerts — on Beverly Road in Brooklyn, by bestowing the special award almost at show’s end.
Dr. Irish-Morris told Caribbean Life that Sutherland is a “very gifted and talented” man, describing him, among other things, as “honorable, humble, unselfish, giving, devoted, exemplary, team player and a great lover of culture.”
“Don Sutherland, certainly, deserves this award for over 40 years of promoting Vincy culture,” she said. “UVCGB is proud to salute this champion of culture. It is such a blessing that he is part of our ministry.”
Irish-Morris said that Sutherland, a member of the group, who plays the lead guitar in the UVCGB band, travels weekly from his home in Woodbridge Hills in Central New Jersey for rehearsals in Brooklyn.
She also disclosed that Sutherland’s wife, Louise, despite her blind condition, helps him sell at least 30 tickets for the group’s annual showcase.
“First of all, I must give thanks and praise to our Lord Jesus for keeping me alive and to continue to work as a team member with our UVCG of Brooklyn,” said Sutherland, in a Caribbean Life interview, who had suffered a heart attack a few years ago before the honor. “This was a surprise from Dr. Roxie Irish (Morris) and our group to give me this recognition for over 40 years of writing original folk songs and still performing on stage.
“The love and dedication that I share with our group were given back to me,” he added. “I’m blessed to be a blessing and to be honored by our UVCG of Brooklyn.”
Sutherland, who taught elementary and secondary schools in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the late 1960s to late 1970s, was one of the nation’s folklorists in the 1970s. He is still very actively participating and writing folk and other songs.
He was very instrumental in writing original folk songs and calypsos for a school in Georgetown, enabling it to win two consecutive years in the local music festival.
Sutherland said folk songs, such as “Ole Time Fashion Never Die” and “Vincentian Local Dish, are still being played on radio in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and sang in schools.
He was influential in forming the Georgetown Folk Creation group, of old and young singers, in the 1970s, and shares his talent freely with the John John String Band, among numerous groups and churches.
In 2003, Sutherland said he and Ralph Nassan Browne formed the band, Second Generation, which played in Long Island and South New Jersey, which produced the CD, “Live in Harmony.”
Sutherland said he is still working with the same company, Multiplastic Exclusion, Inc., in Avenel, Central New Jersey, for about 40 years, as the EHS/Quality Manager.
The Brooklyn-based St. Vincent and the Grenadines Diaspora Committee of New York also honored Sutherland in 2017 during its Second Annual Awards Ceremony at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn. Sutherland was nominated by UVCGB drummer and Diaspora Committee member Owusu Slater.
Except for fundraising, Grab-N-Go lunches, in the last two years, UVCGB has not performed in concert or held major fundraising activities because of the COVID-19 pandemic.