Gathered under the warm lights of the Grand Hyatt hotel ballroom in New York City on Saturday evening, August 13, 2016, were those who came out in a Jamaican 54th Independence celebratory mood at the annual gala under the patronage of Jamaica’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, the Honorable E. Courtenay Rattray. The room was decked in traditional black, gold and green awaiting excitement. It was not a secret but rather an ambiance that translated into jubilation so we could all ‘get together and feel alright’.
Patrons all enjoyed the ‘Cocktail Hour’ which started a tad later than planned but was nonetheless a good sixty minutes of cordial exchanges around the tall and neatly wrapped hydraulic cocktail tables and shorter, square ones with seating for four. There was much catching up on ‘since the last time I saw you’ with drink in hand while being served filet mignon au poivre on crouton, jerk chicken skewers, fresh crudité of carrots, crispy celery sticks, succulent cherry tomatoes, mildly seasoned jerk chicken wings and of course Jamaican cocktail patties. Later patrons were ushered into an even more sophisticated and more glamorous ballroom with exquisite table arrangements. Queued patrons stylishly made their way to the grand ballroom but not before posing on the red carpet for a professional photo or two or more and of course the cell phones capturing additional shots to be an instant keepsake.
Once again the black, gold and green colors were on vibrant display on star-shaped balloons extending from table to ceiling and butter-yellow, colored candles and floral arrangements were all the visual representation of sweet, sweet Jamaica. Within these particular placements were some bold colors on the outstanding ‘Bird-of-Paradise’ flower, just as elegant as the sophisticated ladies in their posh and strikingly colorful gowns and very well-coiffed. The gentlemen were also refined and ritzy – bow-tied in tuxedos and happily arm in arm with their ladies.
On the two farthest ends of the room were the names of the sponsors viz – Program Sponsor: Tower Isles Frozen Foods, Premier sponsors: Ford Auto Mall and Caribbean Food Delight; Coral Sponsors: Carib News, Caribbean Airlines, Fly Jamaica Airways, Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery & Grill, Grace Foods, Riviera Imports and VP Records, and Corporate Sponsor: Heinekin.
Masters of Ceremonies, Ruschell Boone and Dubmaster Chris kept the night flowing after the solemn flag-bearing ceremonies by two members of the Jamaica Ex-Soldiers Association and the singing of the treasured American and the very well-loved Jamaican national anthems by our own Mahalia Jackson. A formal and direct invocation by the well-known Rev. Canon Dr. Major Sirrano Kitson from Jamaica, ‘baptized’ the gathering and blessed the occasion and the meal after a few ‘Amens’.
Without skipping a beat, Mrs. Paulette Willoughby, Chair of the Jamaica Independence Celebration Foundation Inc., brought warm felicitations to all and thanked loyal patrons for their ongoing support on every level. Then of course, the Acting Consul General, Mr. Derron McCreath, had the patrons listening keenly with their full attention to the Prime Minister’s message after which a hearty and delectable dinner was served. It consisted of toothsome and tender, steamed red snapper with slightly edulcorated peppers and onions on a bed of Jamaican rice and peas snuggled up against a steaming heap of callaloo. Hearty servings of cheesecake with mango sauce and diced mangoes in a rum cream Anglaise, freshly brewed coffee and a selection of Tazo teas were the mouth-watering, palatable courses that followed.
The evening’s celebration and affairs continued smoothly with the silent auction and awards being given to the Rev. Dr. Agorom Dike, Attorney Michelle Rodney, Sadie Aarons-Campbell on behalf of the Jamaica Progressive League, Sandra Richards and Anthony Rockwood, Senior. Leroi and Mabricio Wilson, founders of Futboir Clothing and Omar Hawthorne, Director of Franchise Development & Community Affairs of Golden Krust, were given the Future Leaders Award. It was comforting to hear almost every honoree and future leader echo the same warm sentiment; that it was as a result of their parents that they had reached certain goals and were now award recipients. It immediately brought me to the Confucian (Chinese) philosophy of filial piety – a virtue of respect for parents, elders and ancestors.
In the midst of all this, an announcement was made regarding the success of the Jamaican’s women’s team in the 31st Olympiad being hosted in Brazil. People were jumping; loud cheers and thunderous applause broke out and the elegant and ritzy patrons were transformed like school girls and school boys at a Jamaican sports event with their school being the champions. It was delightful! And we danced!
The Latin word bailere and Spanish word bailar are derivatives of the English to dance. We were in a ballroom – a room for dancing. The evening would not have been complete without dancing to the classical and melodious sounds of the in-house band Fab-5. Some of the original members included Franky, Grub, Junior and Sydney whose presentation was truly enhanced by the newer members. They rocked the night away with DJ Road International and Ikaya who belted out the honeyed notes of “Songs of Freedom” and truly came together to live up to the theme of this year’s celebration “Let’s Get Together and Feel Alright”. And we continued to dance. Before you knew it the glamorous night had sped to an early, new Sunday morning and at about 2a.m. the celebration at the Grand Hyatt for this event was over but as many people may know, Jamaicans continue to celebrate Independence for the rest of August. That’s just how we do it.
Photos by Michael Lynch