By Aminta Kilawan Narine, Esq.
The Indo-Caribbean Alliance (ICA) held its fifth annual Gala at Floral Terrace on Saturday, September 30.
The gala celebrated Indo-Caribbean heritage and commemorated 100 years after the end of indentureship in the Caribbean. Co-chaired by Diana Persaud and Anoop Pandohie, the event featured a silent auction, as well as a true-to-scale diorama of a “dabbed” fireside, including a lorha, sill, belna, tawa, karhi, and pointer broom. There was also a photo gallery depicting the Indo-Caribbean experience since Indians arrived in the Caribbean. The gallery included nostalgic photos of guests themselves.
The emcee for the evening was Jennifer Bisram, seven-time Emmy nominated Guyanese-American journalist and TV Reporter at PIX11 News in NYC. Bisram transitioned every item on the program effortlessly and with great zest. Prominent community leaders, professionals, and civic activists were present, including District 28’s Council Member-Elect Adrienne Adams, who recently won in a close race between ICA co-founder Richard David and attorney Hettie Powell. Adams’ presence at the gala was a positive sign that she would keep her campaign promise to equitably represent both sides of the Van Wyck, including the large Indo-Caribbean population of Southeast Queens.
Each year, ICA honors individuals who have made significant contributions as Indo-Caribbeans. This year, Terry Gajraj was given the “Icon Award.” Famous for his “Guyana Baboo,” Gajraj is the most toured artist from Guyana. Beyond his musical career, he is the celebrity spokesperson for the Save Abee Charitable Foundation for Kids, based in Guyana. Gajraj humbly accepted the award and indicated that ICA does “phenomenal work with the people who need it most.”
Deputy Inspector Deodat Urprasad, commanding officer of the 102nd precinct in Richmond Hill, Queens, was also awarded. Urprasad is the highest ranking Indo-Caribbean in the New York City Police Department. Urprasad began working for the NYPD in January 1992 and rose up the ranks. Under Urprasad’s leadership, crime in the 102nd precinct is at an all-time low. Urprasad attributes this to the fact that he listened to residents, reacted accordingly, and his entire team was dedicated to serve. In his acceptance speech, Urprasad advised the Indo-Caribbean community: “If you don’t raise your voice in a constructive manner, it is less than likely that the services you are entitled to will be provided.”
Dr. Devicka Persaud was also awarded. Dr. Persaud was born in Guyana and migrated to the United States at 7 years old. While it was her dream to return to Guyana to promote healthcare, family commitments resulted in her staying in New York City. She realized along the way that there was also a need for good healthcare in her community and spent the last 20 years practicing in Richmond Hill. At the gala, Dr. Persaud said that she feels strongly about her faith (she is Hindu), and spoke of two big health challenges that come up regularly in her course of work. First, Dr. Persaud addressed diabetes which ultimately impacts the heart (accelerating cardiovascular disease), eyes (cataracts), renal system (kidney failure), nervous system (diabetic neuropathy) and the skin (peeling). Second, Dr. Persaud highlighted excess marijuana and cigarette use, particularly among young Indo-Caribbean adults. “I’m an old school physician who believes it takes a village to raise a child,” she said. Dr. Persaud asked everyone to come together as a community to end what she referred to as a “crisis.”
Reflecting on the aftermath of the presidential election, Vedesh Persaud, Interim Executive Director of ICA, said “in less than a year, the political landscape has changed and our services are more needed than ever.” Shivika Rajkisore, board member of ICA, said: “We wanted to help our community, but not only help, but also be part of the process of change.” In describing ICA’s efforts to provide youth services, Rajkisore, who is a schoolteacher herself, indicated that “it is one of the areas where there is a dire need to engage children in a consistent way outside of the classroom.” Reflecting on ICA’s free tutoring program, Rajkisore continued: “Some nights we ran out of physical space for children because there are so many in need.” Kenrick Sallick was tutored through this program and indicated that his grades improved significantly upon going week after week. He was even able to land a job with ICA’s help.
Every year, attendees of the ICA gala compete for the title of “Best Dressed.” The best dressed male was Shivie Sukdheo, event planner from Platinum Celebrations, whose sherwani was purchased from Lotus Bazaar. The best dressed female was Dr. Melissa Bhikham, President of Operation Dreamcatchers. Denise Ramdawah, founder of Nritya Priya Dance School, performed a medley of Bollywood songs that immersed guests in a century-long musical journey. The dance floor was officially opened by Naturally-Recklez Tassa Group, and the party continued with music by DJ Fess of Elite Sounds.
Gala proceeds will directly benefit ICA’s youth, immigration and civic advocacy programs and services. Proceeds include an impromptu fundraising effort initiated by Patrick Kearns, owner of Leo F. Kearns Funeral Home, which reached ICA’s goal of raising $5,000 for the night. Kearns was the recipient of ICA’s business leadership award. He indicated that the Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park community has been a part of his family for a long time.
“That community is now very much the Indo-Caribbean community. You have been good to us and we are honored to be here,” Kearns said. The Leo F. Kearns Funeral home in Richmond Hill opened in 1951 and is among the largest and most frequented funeral facilities in NYC. Interim Executive Director Vedesh Persaud jokingly indicated that Leo. F. Kearns is the only funeral parlor in NYC with a 5 star rating on Yelp. Indeed many Indo-Caribbean families utilize the services of the funeral home during times of bereavement and are met with empathetic and highly professional service.
The night of the gala was an ode to the fore parents who travelled on ships from India to venture into an unknown land. ICA board member Faudia Baijnauth recounted the story of her great grandparents getting on a ship to travel to Guyana. Her great grandfather wound up returning to India while her great grandmother was left to fend for herself in Guyana as a single mother working in the fields.
Baijnauth joined Richard David and Andrew Perumal to found ICA in 2009. ICA is a 501(c)3, tax exempt nonprofit organization. Among its various programs, the organization runs the only secular community center for Indo-Caribbeans in New York City.
To donate to ICA, visit http://www.indocaribbean.org/donate.html.
Photos similar to “Demerara Coolie Girl” were displayed in the gallery reflecting the Indo-Caribbean journey.