WEST ORANGE, NJ — A crowd of people dressed in green, black and gold gathered in front of West Orange Town Hall on Aug. 7 to celebrate the 56th Jamaican Independence Day with a flag-raising ceremony.
The event began with the Jamaican National Pledge and featured addresses from Mayor Robert Parisi, leaders of local Jamaican organizations and business owners.
“We are blessed in West Orange not only to have people from all around the world, but to have friends and neighbors who share their pride with all of us on days like today,” Parisi said in his welcome address. “The township is happy to be here to support this important ceremony, this celebration, and to welcome all of you to our community.”
While such celebrations have been organized throughout the state by the Jamaican Organization of New Jersey, Jamaicans United Vice President Richard Coore decided to organize this flag-raising event after learning that there wasn’t one in Essex County this year.
“We felt that there are enough Jamaicans in and around the area that we should celebrate together as a people,” Coore, who is also head coach of Arjahz Soccer Academy, said. “I want to appreciate the fact that West Orange, as a town, has a longstanding tradition of highlighting and embracing and celebrating the many different cultures that make up this town.”
The featured speaker Fanaye Selassie of TransCaribe, a Jamaican-owned international shipping company based in East Orange, reminded the people to not “give up on Jamaica.”
“You must remember your little island in the sun, where every single nation in the world takes vacation in Jamaica, but why is it that we are running from it,” she said. “I’m encouraging, or ‘fulcouraging’ as we say in Jamaica, to look home and lend a helping hand.”
Following poetry and dance performances by children of Jamaican descent, Melanie Byfield-Coore stressed the importance of passing down the culture to the next generations.
“It’s time to pass on the baton on to our younger generations. We have a beautiful and rich culture. We shouldn’t deny our next generations our culture,” Byfield-Coore said.
Concluding her closing remarks, Byfield-Coore encouraged those in attendance to be proud of being Jamaican or of Jamaican-descent.
“At the end of the day, no matter where you live, be proud of who you are,” she said. “You’re Jamaican.”
Essex County Sheriff’s Officer Norman Belton informed event organizers at the last minute that he could not make it to the event to raise the flag. But the slight inconvenience did not dampen the spirits of the crowd, which proudly sang the Jamaican national anthem as a local police officer in attendance raised the flag in Belton’s absence.
“It makes me feel so proud to be here and to be doing this with our fellow Jamaicans,” West Orange resident Stephanie Bembridge told the West Orange Chronicle. “I love the unity that it brings with this world, this culture and our country.”
Photos by Kaanita Iyer