New Yorkers have always had a tough as nails reputation. That take no bull attitude has always set us apart from any other great city in this nation. New Yorkers have been through plenty of adversity throughout the years and the storm of the century just added to the list. Yes, many Staten Islanders are suffering and many that live by the coastal sections lost everything. Sandy was the Big One people had been talking all about for years and she hit us hard. But catastrophic events like this help bring people together not tear them apart. Nearly two weeks after Sandy wrecked havoc in New York and New Jersey, people were ready to cheer about something as the 93rd edition of the largest Veteran’s Day Parade in the country was set to kick off at the start of the parade route on 23rd St. and 5th Ave. This year’s Grand Marshall was no other than the Honorable former Mayor Ed Koch. Who else can have a bridge named after him while he’s still alive. Mayor Koch is about as New York as you can get. After the Honorable current Mayor Bloomberg made his way up the parade route to the cheers of the crowd, the fun really started for all those waiting on a warm Sunday afternoon on 5th Ave.
This year, parade organizers decided to honor the Navajo Code Talkers who were so instrumental in WWII. The Navajo Code Talkers were young Navajo men who transmitted secret communications on the battlefields of WWll. “At a time when America’s best known cryptographers were falling short, these modest sheepherders and farmers were able to fashion the most ingenious and successful codes in military history. They drew upon their proud warrior tradition to brave the dense jungles of Guadalcanal and the exposed beachheads of Iwo Jima,” according to their website. Another group that was honored were the service dogs of many breeds all throughout the many wars this country has been involved in. The most recent military dog to be honored will be Cairo, a Belgian Malinois, who parachuted with the Navy SEAL team into the Bin Laden compound in Pakistan where he alerted his companions to the movements of people around the compound. His work aided in the killing of the notorious terrorist.
The first of the Armed Forces to march their way up the parade route was the Army Battalion soon followed by the Marine Corps. Good thing they were a good distance apart; they never have anything good to say about each other. Veteran’s Day Parade draws some of the better bands in the country to show off their skills and the Prospect Marching Knights from Mount Prospect, Illinois got the crowd really worked up. One of largest participants with over 700 marchers were the Wounded Warrior Project carrying the largest American flag of the parade. Their float had a simple motto: Mission: to honor and empower wounded warriors. Then the part that everyone waited for…a chance to thank and praise the Veterans. The first group was part of the Greatest Generation from World War II. School aged children carried large pictures of veterans in honor of the Spirit of ’45. A float carried some of the remaining WWII vets as they waved to the applauding crowd. The next group of vets came from the Korean War and they were accompanied by Korean veterans that served. Even a group of Korean marchers and dancers helped keep the celebration moving in high gear. In between groups of vets came more Armed Forces as the Navy and Air Force marched without so much as a grin but the crowd just loved it. The next group of vets were from the Vietnam War. The crowd gave them the applause and honor they didn’t get when they returned from half way around the globe back in the 70s when Nixon ended the war. The show stealer this year surprisingly had to be the Coast Guard. Their marching band and uniforms were the envy of the parade. They were warming things up for the last group of vets known as the Next Greatest Generation from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and yes they were by far the loudest. The great work of Operation Mend was on display for all to see. This group helps mend soldiers burned in the line of duty. The crowd was treated to a trio of lively USO singers. Every year a different band is requested to play at the parade by Mayor Bloomberg and this years group came in from Portsmouth in the UK. They were really good.
This year, the veterans asked people to bring coats and other clothing to be donated to the people most affected by the devastating storm Sandy. Plenty of people I know were inconvenienced with the loss of power or having to wait long hours to get gasoline. But when you measure that against what some of these men and women went through in the battlefields in Europe, or in Korea or Vietnam or in the deserts of Iraq or Afghanistan, it really pales in comparison. These men and women were along way from home never knowing if they would ever come back; many miles away to protect our freedom from the forces that wish to destroy it. Long live the red, white and blue.
Technology is great when it can bridge the old and the new together. This past Sunday I was looking for parking in Harlem and I had my smartphone locked in Tune In Radio and playing it over the car speakers a little louder than normal. There’s a UK station, Stomp radio, that plays soulful house music that keep you moving. I was getting into a house groove when the I Have A Dream speech was laced over a new track. It couldn’t have been more fitting as I was getting ready for the 43rd annual African American Day Parade on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. I was born just a few days after the most famous speech of the 20th century and have always used it as a guiding principle. Walking over towards the parade route, I noticed the revitalization in pockets of Harlem but there’s still a long way to go…much like in this country. In the back of my mind, I wondered how Dr. King would have liked to see the community celebrate the culture, music and food. As always for this parade, those that have recently passed are remembered on a float with tombstones before the rest of the marchers make their way up the parade route to 133rd St. The crowd was then treated to the marching band from Cheney University, the nation’s oldest historically Black institution of higher education. This years parade Grand Marshalls included David Paterson, David Dinkins, Rev. Al Sharpton , Dr. Adelaide Sanford , Congressman Charles Rangel, William Thompson and Lillian Roberts.
One of the best things to see in this parade is the community all gets together to put out the word of constructive meaningful causes. Higher education, social services, voter registration, labor unions are all important in keeping the community together and helping to make a meaningful contribution. The Camden HS Marching Band helped the crowd get ready for the many groups of hi steppers from Baltimore, Maryland. Dynasty Marching Unit kicked it off but the were quickly outclassed by the Baltimore Westsiders Marching Band. Holding their own was some local talent in the Approaching Storm High Stepping Marching Band from Brooklyn. One of the best treats came from the Local Union 11 99 SEIU float with guest band GQ playing some classic hits. The marchers showed their support for Barack Obama with creative tshirts and banners and often chanting 4 more years or chanting Obama….Obama…Obama. Doug E Fresh showed up on the turntables and get the crowd worked up. Many other high steppers arrived from Baltimore and locally. The Baltimore GoGetters were really good. Closing out the parade as they do every year was a treat for young and old alike. The black Cowboys and Cowgirls showed their horse tricks to the crowd and let the young kids touch the horses. All in all it was a good parade for all those of all nationalities and races that made their way to Harlem. Looking at the crowd one got a sense of togetherness and unity. Yes, Dr. King would have smiled.
Once you turned any corner on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn this past Labor Day, you were hit with the scent of spicy foods, jerk chicken, roti and lots of other delicious foods. Kiosks were set up with vendors selling foods, flags, and fruits all along the Parkway. It’s a marvelous sight seen only once a year when people of all the West Indie nations come out to celebrate with lots of music, dance, amazing costumes and lots of representation of the culture. This the city’s largest parade and with over 2 million revelers and marchers expected on the parade route, it’s truly an experience to be had at least once in your lifetime. The crowd was starting to get thicker around noon just at the start of the parade when the NYPD Band broke out the steel drums and got the huge party started. You just knew this was going to be a special day when none other than the King of Calypso, Harry Belafonte, the parade Grand Marshall saluted the crowd as he made his way to meet Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Local politicians greeted the crowd and most the times it’s not really that interesting but one particular display stood out. A banner designed by Yves Rene with all the flags of the Caribbean nations and the motherland flag of Africa in the center called for unity among the various nations. In unity there is strength and hopefully that message thrives and might spark more interest in a fresh movement to bring all the people of the Caribbean together. But for now the party was just getting started and after the politicos passed on by the fun really started when a group from Dominica marched up in costume followed by a lively marching band.
The first of many tractor trailers filled with monster speakers and deejays was from 2K12 The Rebirth with lots of masqueraders and a large crowd following. They got the crowd worked up and ready to dance. Some folks jumped over the iron guard railing to join in the fun and dance to their favorite songs. If you have been to this parade before, it is truly one of the most unique parades in NYC. Other than amazing costumes and great music, it’s the only parade where you can hop over the fence and dance with one group until the end of the parade route then hop on a train and go back to Utica Ave. where the parade starts and do it all over again. Only in NY…only in Brooklyn. This year the spacing of the monster trucks was good enough so the music did not drown out the others. Kaios International Mas had a nice representation of masqueraders but the Phoenix Boomstation had their people dancing wildly. Not to be outdone was Ramajay Mas but the show stealers were the stilt walkers and incredible dancers from Dugolay visiting from Massachusetts. They tore it up. As the dancers and masqueraders made their way to the reviewing stand by the Brooklyn Museum and show their dance moves to the judges, most of the crowd took in the festivities with great pride and love for thier country. One group that really shook up the crowd were the NYC Freaks and they did live up to their name. Crowd control is always an issues especially when about 2 million people are having a great time. Props definitely go out to the NYPD for responding quickly whenever there were any disturbances. To close out the celebration were some of the more elaborate costumes I have ever seen. It must have taken months to get the costumes ready. And one quick note, the Haitian Digitel truck was late again and didn’t make it down the parade route and had to turn off on Bedford Ave. as the sanitation trucks beat them to the spot. A little earlier next time guys. They have one of the best trucks and the best music in the parade and lots of people didn’t get to see them this year. But from what the crowd did get to see, it was up to this point the best parade of the city this year.