ORANGE, NJ — Irvington Township was represented by Lionel Leach at this year’s annual Orange Caribbean Festival, organized by Nikki Amos and Campanella Godfrey, in Monte Irving Park on Central Avenue in Orange on Saturday, Aug. 4.
A former Communications Workers of America Union official, as well as part of former Mayor Wayne Smith’s unsuccessful re-election campaign slate in 2016, Leach has remained active in numerous activities in Irvington and the surrounding area.
“I’m out here supporting Nikki and her crew. They did an excellent job today and I’m always happy to come out here and support and be around my Trinidadian and Caribbean people,” said Leach on Saturday, Aug. 4. “It’s very important to the community. Every municipality should be doing one. They do a great job out here and I’m always supporting Nikki and her crew.”
Every year, Amos and Godfrey organize Orange’s Caribbean Festival in Orange, with the support of the local mayor, Orange City Council and a host of public and private supporters. Leach said what their work makes it possible for everyone throughout Essex County to enjoy such cultural events, including the upcoming Essex County African Caribbean Festival on Saturday, Sept. 8, in Branch Brook Park in Newark.
“There’s no competition among different festivals, because they all come together … making sure they support each and everyone involved, because this is a lot of work,” Leach said. “It’s on Sept. 8 in Branch Brook Park. It’s being done by Essex County Executive Joseph ‘Joe D’ DiVincenzo and the freeholders. … It will be the fourth annual event. It’s always about coming together and getting good ideas from one and making sure we pool our strength.”
In addition to Leach, this year’s efforts attracted the attention of Carol Thomas and her daughter, Christi, of Brooklyn, N.Y., who decided to come to Orange on Saturday, Aug. 4, to see what was being done to celebrate Caribbean-American music, food, art and culture.
“I think you guys should really keep it up,” said Carol Thomas on Saturday, Aug. 4. “Maybe publicize it a little more, because I was not really knowledgeable about it. But I heard about it and I said, ‘Let me come and experience it.’ Based on what I see, the environment is very family-oriented, free from traffic and congestion and commotion; it’s a fun place to be. It should be an annual thing.”
Christi Thomas, 18, recently graduated from high school and returned to the United States, after taking a field trip to her mother’s home island of Grenada. She agreed that Orange’s annual Caribbean Festival should be a featured attraction for everyone who loves Caribbean culture.
“Very beautiful,” said Christi Thomas on Saturday, Aug. 4. “I love the unity it promotes, especially at times like these. At times like this, with everything that’s going on in the world, we need more things like this.”
In fact, both said they were so impressed by the festival that they plan to attend again next year. The two live on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, where the biggest, most extravagant Caribbean parade outside the Caribbean takes place each year, and they said their high expectations were more than met in Orange.
“For something that’s new, it seems really fun,” said Christi Thomas. “Really well established. Really professional.”
Carol Thomas called it her duty to expose her daughter to as much authentic Caribbean culture as possible and said the event “was excellent. It was our first time, but we really enjoyed it. Anything for Caribbean culture. Anything to do with our culture. That’s part of our culture, so we’ll be here. Next year, same time, same place, we’ll be here.”
“That’s exactly what we want to hear,” said Amos on Saturday, Aug. 4. “And it’s great to hear that people from Brooklyn came all the way here to Orange for our festival. They have a very high bar, so if Brooklyn people are saying that we’re doing a pretty good job and they’re coming back, we’ve got to be doing something right. So that’s good to know. That’s very high praise.”
Patrick Reid, president of the East Orange Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Jamaican Organization of New Jersey, was also at the annual Orange Caribbean Festival, as a proud Jamaican and local businessman. He agreed the event could have been better publicized.
“We’ve got to do a better job marketing the culture,” said Reid on Saturday, Aug. 4. “It’s being consumed all over the county, all over the state of New Jersey. I will tell you that the Caribbean Fund Family Foundation had over 5,000 people in the park this year. Following that at the Jersey City Carnival, we had about 10,000 to 15,000 people over there as well. Orange is the epicenter of Essex County for Caribbean people. There is a desire for culture and it’s here right in Orange.”
Godfrey agreed with those sentiments.
“Everyone wants a taste of that Caribbean flavor,” said Godfrey on Saturday, Aug. 4. “People are hungry for Caribbean culture, and it’s ain’t just the jerk chicken.”
Orange North Ward Councilwoman Tency Eason agreed that Caribbean nations, which contribute their own ethnic ingredients to the city’s overall multicultural diversity, are a source of great pride for Orange and can be used as an economic engine to power the city’s ongoing development efforts. Plus, she said helping to organize and support such events in Orange is the right thing to do.
“We’ve got to be all inclusive, right? Assimilate. Get to know everybody and their culture and embrace them in our city,” said Eason on Saturday, Aug. 4. “It’s a community event and it brings everybody together …
socializing and having a good time.”
Eason agreed with several people, including DJ Romano, of Brooklyn, the event’s annual host and emcee, who said a carnival-style parade should take place at next year’s festival, marching up Central Avenue, from East Orange into Orange.
“We did that last year,” said Eason. “We didn’t do that this year, but we did that last year. We could do it again next year, too.”