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West Indian-American Day Parade Dances Through Crown Heights

By  Mary Johnson Meredith Hoffman Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska and Theodore Parisienne | September 3, 2012 1:55pm | Updated on September 3, 2012 5:24pm

CROWN HEIGHTS — Thousands of people clad in feathers, flags and bejeweled bikinis poured into Crown Heights Monday for the 45th annual West Indian-American Day Parade.

Music blared through the streets as thousands of revelers celebrated the unoffiical end of summer with jerk chicken and ice cream. Girls painted their faces to represent the colors of various West Indian countries’ flags, and neighbors lit grills in front of their apartment buildings.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn served as the parade’s grand marshall, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke briefly at the beginning of the Labor Day event, touting the annual festivities as a day when everyone is “a little bit West Indian.”

“We do this every year, and the parade just gets better and better,” Bloomberg said. “It just shows you the diversity of New York, and it shows you why this city is doing better than other cities around the country.”

Several other politicians joined in the parade, including mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

"I love [the parade]," Cuomo said.

"It was a special treat to me for me to be with Harry Belafonte," added Cuomo, who walked alongside the New York City-born singer best known for the song "Day-O." "I have been a big fan of Harry for a long time so it was a special treat."

Sherine Jones, 24, said she came with group of friends, all of whom are from Grenada.

For Jones and her friends, Monday’s festivities began before dawn at the pre-parade festival known as J’Ouvert, which kicked off at 2 a.m. on Eastern Parkway Monday.

“We’ve been awake for several days now,” Jones said.

Jones said she planned to follow the parade all day, dancing to the music blaring from various floats.  

“The only bad part is you have to walk back from the end when your feet are tried,” she said.

Jewell White, 36, whose parents are from Jamaica, said she has been attending the parade since 1980.

“I will never outgrow it,” White said. “I love people. I love different nationalities. I love to dance, and I love to drink.”

Ashley Lewis, 14 and Trishana Hamilton, 16, came to the parade with their lips painted black, gold and green to represent the colors of the Jamaican flag.

“I came to represent Jamaica,” said Lewis. “It’s our country’s 50th year anniversary.”

Imperia Davis, 17, of the nonprofit organization Caricane Costume, was one of the parade participants, dancing in a costume with black wings.

“It’s fun to dance and celebrate your heritage," said Davis, who lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant and whose parents came to the U.S. from Barbados.

Natsie Swaby, 48, who works as a school safety officer, and her 19-year-old daughter came to the parade after celebrating since 4:30 a.m. at a pre-parade party.

“It’s great to see everybody together,” she said. “All the cultures are united today.”

The parade had drawn a larger police presence this year, Swaby noted, with clusters of officers on streets and around subway stations along the parade route.

“Every year it’s better and better, and hopefully nothing will happen this year,” said Swaby, referring to some of the violence that plagued last year's parade.

City Councilman Jumaane Williams was arrested at the parade, an arrest the councilman claimed was racially charged.

A shooting a few blocks from the 2011 event reportedly left three people dead, including one innocent bystander, and two police officers injured.

While the first few hours of the parade seemed relatively calm, a reporter saw police arrest a man after witnesses said he ejaculated on a female parade-goer. 

Police could not immediately confirm any arrests.