With bright sunshine and the temperature hovering around the high 80s, it was a picture-perfect return on Saturday of the annual, massive Vincy Day USA Picnic, as thousands of Vincentians and friends of Vincentians converged on Heckscher State Park in East Islip, Long Is. after a two-year break in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Picnic-goers trekked from near and far — as far as Toronto and California, but primarily from Brooklyn, where most Vincentians in the US Diaspora reside — for the 10th anniversary of the day-long celebration that involved, among other things, mouth-watering Vincy cuisine, local drinks and entertainment.
Petra B. Ryan-Phillips, whose dad lives in Brooklyn, drove from Toronto with her friend Cornetta Mason and her daughter, Adonna Ubochi.
“I’m enjoying myself,” Ryan-Phillips told Caribbean Life, as they gathered in front of the large entertainment stage, where a host of Vincentian soca artistes kept the crowd bubbling with local and Caribbean hits.
“I’ll come back next year,” added Ryan-Phillips, who has been coming to the mammoth picnic for five years.
Mason said the notion of a Vincy Picnic is most welcoming, especially in the current climate.
“Coming together is a blessing after COVID,” she said, as Adonna, hugging her mom, intoned: “I like the (local) drinks – mauby, sorrel and ginger beer.”
A few yards away, Nicholas and Miranda “Dell” Lucas, who drove from Brooklyn for about an hour, said they were excited to participate in the historic event.
“We’ve been coming since 2014,” said Mr. Lucas, a retired New York City Transit Authority employee. “It’s good to see Vincy people together.”
Alexander “Alex” and Arlene Crichton arrived in Brooklyn on Friday from Los Angeles, CA.
“We just arrived,” said Mr. Crichton, flanked also by his sister, Deonne Crichton, a retired registered nurse in Brooklyn. “We’re seeing some folks I’ve not seen in years. We’re seeing more familiar faces.”
Deonne, a former president of the Brooklyn-based St. Vincent and the Grenadines Nurses Association of New York, Inc., said: “I was not expecting to see such a big crowd (because of the pandemic).”
On the eastern side of the sprawling grounds, the Charles Family of Barrouallie, a town in Central Leeward, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, like so many families, shared their food — pelau — and snacks with picnic-goers.
One member of the Charles Family said: “This is a day for sharing. Nothing is sold here.”
Stage-side, the organizer, the Brooklyn-based Vncy Day USA Committee, provided entertainment for the party crowd and bestowed honors posthumously on founder Ulric Jones, Jr., better known as “Soca Jones”; and former member Franklyn “Supadex” Richards, who died tragically recently in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The Committee also honored Vaughan Toney, president and chief executive officer of the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Centers in Brooklyn.
Additionally, in the 10th Anniversary Souvenir Journal, the Committee recognized some fallen heroes: Anthony “Tony” Husbands, a United Nations Security Officer; Radio and Television Broadcaster Ferrand “Randy D” Dopwell; Maxwell “Iwaki” Haywood, president of the Brooklyn-based St. Vincent and the Grenadines Diaspora Committee of New York, Inc.; calypsonians Winston Soso and Vincent “Groovy D” Kennedy; and Sports Ambassador Gailene Windsor.
Newly-appointed St. Vincent and the Grenadines Consul General to the United States, Rondy “Luta” McIntosh, a popular soca artiste, paid tribute to “Soca Jones”, stating that he was “breaking all ranks” in singing “I tell myself…Leave Me Alone.”
Prior to recognizing “Soca Jones”, “Supadex” and Windsor, McIntosh told picnic-goers that he is “going to be a Consul General with a difference.
“I’ll be a man of the people,” he said. “No position can make me feel better than anyone else.
“Vincy Day must grow,” McIntosh urged. “I’m going to work with all the groups. There’s no reason why the Soca and Calypo Monarchs (in St. Vincent and the Grenadines) are not here.”
After accepting a plaque on behalf of their late brother “Soca Jones,” from Raymond Otis Lewis, chairman of the committee, Sharon and Eneka “Nekes” Jones told Caribbean Life that they were “overwhelmed” by the gesture.
“I missed seeing Junior with his songs being played,” said Sharon, holding in her arms “Soca Jones’s” granddaughter Khloe, with Eneka adding: “I feel it was a very good sentiment of the Committee to know he was an essential part to get this forward.”
Falani Richards, “Supadex’s,” only daughter, said receiving the award with her brother, Franklyn Malik Richards, was “bitter-sweet.”
“We came with him every year (to the picnic), except for one year,” Falani told Caribbean Life. “We had no choice but to come.”
Toney told the award ceremony that he was “honored and appreciative for this award.”
“Had it not been for Junior ‘Soca’ Jones, there would not be a Vincy Day USA,” he said. “On a personal note, many of you are aware of my medical challenges. I’m very honored for this award.”
Among soca artistes and calypsonians, who entertained picnic-goers were Persono; Dennis Bowman; Shaunelle McKenzie, former Calypso Monarch; Ron Pompey; and Skarpyon, who brought the house down with his signature “Hammer”.
“Despite the pandemic, I think we have a pretty decent turn-out,” Bowman told Caribbean Life after belching out, among other hits, “Tribute to Junior Soca Jones”, “Congratulations” (Winston Soso’s song); “Not Giving Up on My Country”; “Instructions”; and “Afro Caribbean”.
“Each Vincy Day, though demanding, is produced with love and by the sheer tenacity of a hardworking and tireless Committee, of which I am extremely honored to be the chair,” Lewis said. “We are thrilled to be together again.”