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Crisis in WIADCA as Carnival approaches

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News Americas Now, Wednesday July 28, 2015-New York, New York: The West Indian American Carnival Association (WIADCA), the organization which hosts the annual Labor Day Parade in Brooklyn, is in turmoil. It faces strong accusations of alleged discrimination and irregularity. Sources say its President, Thomas Bailey, has tendered his resignation several times since the damaging accusations surfaced. However, the Board of Directors has rejected his attempt to jump ship.

The organization is keeping up appearances. It launched its carnival two Fridays ago at Brooklyn Borough Hall with only Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Senator Jessie Hamilton present. The entire complement of Brooklyn Caribbean-American elected officials stayed away. This has darkened the cloud of uncertainty over the association. Sponsors have reportedly expressed unease over the controversy just two months before the grand parade.

The accusations have come from the Brooklyn based Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy (CGID). CGID has charged that WIADCA discriminates against Guyanese and other non-Trinidadians. The Institute has pointed out that WIADCA’s Board of Directors and general membership are almost one hundred percent Trinidadian, and that the organization is not inclusive. The allegations came after CGID President Rickford Burke, a Guyanese, applied for membership and was denied. Burke has been a volunteer with the association for over four years.

CGID has contended that some members of WIADCA have allegedly expressed anti-Guyanese sentiments. The Institute, along with two other Guyanese organizations; One Guyana USA and Guyana Unity Movement, filed a discrimination complaint with New York State Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman. They maintained that it is illegal for the association, which is a not-for-profit that accepts public funding, to discriminate based on national origin.

WIADCA Chairman Eric Gibbs, reacting to the complaint, told the New York Daily News that Burke’s application for membership was denied “based on one’s character and one’s ability to assist the association moving forward.” He said that nationality was not a factor. Burke immediately fired back with a litany of initiatives with which he has helped the association during his four year term as a volunteer. He also asserted that it is laughable for WIADCA to hold itself out as the moral compass of the Caribbean-Community.

Several leaders in the Jamaican, Antiguan and Haitian communities have now joined the Guyanese community in accusing WIDCA of prejudicial practices, deepening the controversy. However, the Association in a statement last week refuted these allegations, stating that “WIADCA prides itself on the inclusion and the celebration of the rich cultural contributions of all Caribbean nations to the world. Over the course of its almost 50 year existence, WIADCA has partnered with a diverse set of cultural organizations and individuals with origins from both within and outside of the Caribbean.”

The association claimed that its “Current leadership and volunteers who make substantial contributions to the organization on a regular basis have roots in countries such as Grenada, Guyana, St. Vincent, Italy, the United States, Anguilla, Trinidad, Tobago, Jamaica, Dominica, Barbados, Haiti and Panama amongst others. In fact, WIADCA always embraced persons from other nationalities in its Membership and Board of Directors. Persons from Guyana, Grenada, Italy, Jamaica and the US have been part of WIADCA for more than 35 years. The organization continues to seek out partners, members and volunteers with specialized expertise from a diverse set of cultural backgrounds.”

Meanwhile, the politicians are not giving WIADCA any assists. Most are staying clear of the controversy. Others like Brooklyn Democratic Assembly, Nick Perry and former New York City Council Member Una Clarke, the mother of Congresswoman Yvette Clarke; both Jamaicans, have told the media that WIADCA must be more inclusive and that its membership should reflect the entire Caribbean-American Community, and not just one nationality.

Former Granada Ambassador to the United Nations, Dr. Lamuel Stanislaus, in an interview with NY Carib News, echoed similar sentiments. He added that diversity within WIADCA is long overdue. A Caribbean Diplomat, who requested anonymity, also told NY Carib News that the Caribbean Consular Corps has raised the issue of discrimination within WIADCA for years but the question went unanswered.

WIADCA last week requested a meeting with CGID and Guyanese community leaders to address the controversy. However, multiple sources have indicated that an agreed upon covenant quickly unraveled because WIADCA officials appeared to immediately renege on the agreement. CGID last Friday, one week after the meeting, issued a statement confirming that the two sides met, but said that “Although this engagement was a step in the right direction, we are unaware of any action that WIADCA has taken to resolve the burning issues that were ventilated at the meeting by the Guyanese delegation. This is worrisome. We remain concerned about these matters and will continue our advocacy for a resolution.”

The four point plan submitted included:

(I) Amend, as soon as possible, the association’s Bylaws to facilitate immediate acceptance of new members to reflect the composition of New York’s diverse Caribbean-American Community.

(II) Immediately appoint delegates from each Caricom nation to be liaisons between their respective communities and WIADCA.

(III) Meet with representatives of each country with an interest in participating in WIADCA’s Labor Day Parade/Carnival; including Jamaicans, Haitians, Antiguans and others, to facilitate their orderly participation in said parade in accordance with extant rules.

(IV) Develop and build partnerships with organizations, individuals, companies, etc., throughout the Caribbean-American community, to ensure inclusiveness and the full recognition, expression, celebration and enrichment of all West Indian cultures.

(V) Upon the satisfactory and timely implementation of the above reforms, the Guyanese delegation agreed to fully embrace WIADCA and its endeavors.

The issue of inclusiveness has long dogged WIADCA. Critics have observed that WIADCA’s Bylaws by design inhibit new membership and inclusiveness. Article III, Section 3.01 of the Bylaws mandate that persons interested in membership must first register as a volunteer and serve for one year before becoming eligible to be nominated by two members for membership. The application is then subjected to approval of the Board. If approved, the new member has to wait six months to vote at meetings and five years to become eligible for nomination to be elected to the Board. Board members serve a term of ten years. CGID has said that such rules perpetuate overt discrimination. A determination of this controversy will be made if the Attorney General decides to conduction an investigation of the association.