By Gloria Dulan-Wilson
You know, I love a parade. Especially when we do it ourselves. That's why I never miss the West Indian Day Parade every year down Eastern Parkway. The music, the color, the costumes, the pride, the crowds - they are all us! And despite the fact that the NYPD made the stupid mistake of arresting Jumaani Williams for being City Council rep while Black (and these cops were allegedly Black themselves), it was still not enough to mar my love of our parades.
So when I was asked to work as Executive Coordinator of the African (Heritage) Day Parade, I was honored. With all the beautiful, wonder, craftmanship, colors, and music coming out of Africa, this was sure to be a beautiful event. Particularly since it's the only parade of its kind where Africans from all over Africa, residing in New York, New Jersey and other eastern seaboard states, come together to show their pride and love for the Motherland, and for those of us who were brought here via the middle passage, and other means.
That would give New York three signature parades coordinated by people of African Heritage: West Indian Day Parade; the African American Day Parade, and the African (Heritage) Day Parade. The third being an all encompassing event bringing together the 6th Dispora, as well as the 54 countries on the Continent of Africa.
The African (Heritage) Day Parade is set to take place in Harlem On October 9, 2011, but the group is having difficulty is getting an innocuous parade permit so they can go forward with their plans and publications. The permit was already granted on July 5, but the route was changed from the original selecton. In the grand scheme of things we have a constitution that asserts all men (and women) are created equal, but we have some in official capacities who seem to have not gotten the message, or don't care.
I have actually not written about this, hoping that nature would take its course, intelligent minds would come into play and that our African brothers and sisters would get the same opportunity to display their pride and unity that so many others have accorded - so I've reserved comment. But now, they have gone from the ridiculous to the outrageous.
I have to talk about it, and I'm going to do it by a somewhat circuitous route, but I think you'll get my drift when I'm done:
When I was a student at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, some of my friends from Kenya and I were driving through the backwoods along the Baltimore Pike when we came upon an eerie scene: that of several hundred men dressed in white robes with hoods in front of a burning cross. It was the KKK and they had threatened to come on our campus to run us out of there - the year was 1967, and we were actually accompanying a classmate, Maxine Stewart, to a prayer vigil, in nearby Dover, Delaware.
Having never seen anything like it before in my life, I found it hard to breathe. My African brothers had likewise never seen anything like this either, and so, insisted upon going back for a closer look. And no matter how much we protested the idea, they turned that little VW Beetle, stuffed with 9 students (no seat belts, sitting on top of each other, the whole 9 yards!) around. And back we went for a closer look at these miscreants. As we approached, we observed that there were several police cars from Oxford, PA and Maryland there as well, many with the robes prominently displayed in the windows. But, this time things were different. They spotted us, and this time 2 cop cars drove up on either side and forced us to pull over. Another cop came out of no where and made us get out of the car - all 9 of us! Wanting to know what we were doing there. And I, yours truly, was totally speechless for once.
After a few invectives, one of my Kenyan friends said in a small stammer "Diplomatic Immunity!" I tried to warn him to be careful. But he kept saying it over and over again: "Diplomatic Immunity! We have Diplomatic Immunity!" He said it so long and so loud until finally, one of the police in KKK uniform heard him and quieted his companions - of course by this time we were less than 3 feet away from the bonfire, and they promised us that we would each have first hand looks.
"Hey! Wait a minute! These are n-gg-rs with foreign accents. We can't touch them!! If we do they'll be all over us. We gotta let 'em go." It took an officer with a higher ranking to understand that the incident could quickly escalate to an international one, had they continued to push us towards the burning cross.
And almost miraculously, they started dragging us back to the car. Made us get in at gun point, and escorted us back to the campus, telling us if we breathed a word about what had happened they would come on the campus and get us. By the time they escorted us back to Lincoln University campus, the Delaware Star (a racist white paper that had no doubt been told that we were going to be immolated), tried to interview us. They were looking for fear. I wouldn't say anything, but my Homeboys from Kenya told all. Of course, the KKK has never raided Lincoln University (we were prepared for them back in those days), but the fact that there was collusion between the racist forces and the mainstream white police has never been a surprise to me, whether we are in the South or in the North, since that day.
Now what does that have to do with the upcoming African (Heritage) Day Parade, and the withholding of the permits? Just this: On July 5, Kone Momadou, of the Ivory Coast, applied for a parade permit to hold a parade in Harlem that would be coordinated by Africans residing in New York, and people of African Descent to demonstrate their pride and accomplishments over the past few years. The originally requested route was from 142 and Malcolm X (Lenox) Blvd., and 122nd and Marcus Garvey Park (following which there would also be a street festival and other events.
From the outset, Lt. O'Conner has reportedly been playing cat and mouse games with this group, from arbitrarily shortening the route, to holding up the parade permit when Mr. Momadou asked for reconsideration based on the size and magnitude of the event.
The Parade, which is set for Sunday, October 9, 2011, has been in the making now for the past two months, including contacts with the diplomatic core of Africa, the Caribbean, and other entities. Requests for reconsideration have likewise gone out via individuals who have given them assurances that these issues would be rectified. However we sit today with O'Conner still playing keep away games with the parade permit. Now trying to further truncate the parade to an even shorter, more proscribed route.
Is there some sort of cognitive dissonace withing the NYPD that emanates from the Mayor's office of community relations that people of other countries who reside within the borders of New York are not worthy of being accorded simple courtesy and respect they give the Chinese, Koreans, Puerto Ricans, Brazilians, and others.
Our African and sisters who live in the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut area, are from all of the various regions of Africa -- East, West, North and Central, but appear to have no coinage for respect in New York City. Amazing, isn't it, when you consider that the fact that over half of the Africans in the US happen to reside in New York City, Philadelphia and DC. By the way, they are merchants, own businesses, pay taxes, are well educated, and for the most part, stay out of trouble.
So, I guess we have to chalk it up to the fact that the some of the police in authority for permits in the Black community, may likewise have "white robes" in the back of their vehicles, like the ones I dealt with long ago on the Maryland Pennsylvania State Line. WE are all Black, whether we are here, or from Africa, and are worthy of respect and consideration. We are neither n----ers with foreign accents, but assets to the community, with even broader connections spanning four continents.
While I've been told that they are shortening all the parades, I doubt seriously this is true of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade; the Columbus Day Parade, the St. Patrick Day Parade, etc.
I and others in the community urge you to give them the permit which had already been signed by you, and stop jerking them and the citizens of New York City around, with arbitrary rules, made up for your convenience, not for the needs or the wishes of the community that you purport to service.
It's time to respect those who are still residing in our beloved city, and stop treating them like they have no value. Unless, of course, the idea is to transform NYC into some quasi militarized, gestapo city, where people are goosestepping along, instead of living their lives in a harmonious, enjoyable fashion.
READERS AND FELLOW BLOGGERS: Below is an excerpt from a letter from Mr. Momadou requesting assistance in rectifying this situation. We need your help. Please contact the Mayor or Commissioner's office and urge them to reinstate the Parade Permit and the Parade Route for the African Day Parade. You can also contact the African Day Parade Committee (646)934-7337.
I was informed by Detective Leslie Leon about the meeting with Lieutenant O Connor. We initially asked for the parade to be from 142 and Lenox ave., to 122 and Marcus Garvey Park, where our festivities would continue until 8:PM. The permit was granted, but Chief O'Connor shortened it to 135th Street. When we tried to negotiate it to 142nd street, to be able to use MiniSink Town House as a staging area; O'conner held the permit. Now he is trying to shorten the route even further, and to change it completely, taking to from 135th street to 122nd street on Lenox and changing it to 112th street to 120th street on Lenox. While both route has the same amount of bloks. they are two totally different neighborhoods. This is our fifth parade, but already we have lost a year in 2011 because of lack of funds. We do not want to loose another year, and we are just two to 3 week away from the parade date.
We applied for the 2 consecutive years to use 142th Street to 122nd street on Lenox, we are again appealing to you to take this matter higher to the commissioner so he can allow us to use the the route we applied for.
We already made an effort for not allowing us to use more blocks, I think we would be able to be where the African are, the reason the parade didn't happen last year it s because of the same reason this year again, Mr. President you been at the African day parade as a Grand Marshall, we can say today that is one of the most successful and bigger African Events. The police Commissioner has been there as a grand Marshall.
The African Day Parade is more than just a parade, this is a showcase of our heritage and culture. the reason we want to used the 142nd street is beceause we have a school right there where we can do our ritual: in 2008 when we parade on 126 street we came upstairs and saw how we prepare.
We are bringing 20 very sacred masks from Cameroon, they need the school to prepare, we are doing the king and queen presentation this year , we need the school classroom to prepare that.
Mr. President as a leader of the African Community , you know how hard it is to assemble the Africans. An event like the African day Parade is trying to find the balance to get the Africans out early so they can come and celebrate their own culture. The blocks on Lenox are very small. In our parade you can see that we do not have barricade and large police present, cause we parade to showcase our culture and tradition; we would like you to be our advocate to the Chief, or the Commissioner, our request is to parade from from uptown side to south down to 122nd street with the same amount of blocks.
- We have all of our application and permits, we are asking for a route who will reflect our culture , on Lenox we will parade in front of African stores and businesses, and African restaurants. To keep changing route and location is not a good practice for us or the participants....Kone Momadou"
Please write, call, meet with and contact the Police Commissioner, Chief of Police and those in the Harlem area to let them know that you support the parade being allowed its full route, as well as the opportunity of displaying African Pride in Harlem, NYC.
STAY BLESSED &