The West Indian Day Parade organizers are being slammed with allegations of discrimination based on being a solely Trinidadian organization.
According to Rickford Burke, head of the Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy (CGID), its membership slots are not open to individuals of other Caribbean cultures.
“While all West Indians come out to watch the parade, all West Indians are not allowed to part of the West Indian American Carnival Association (WIADCA),” Burke said. "WIADCA’s Board and general membership are made up of primarily Trinidadians. Parade goers do not know they cannot join WIADCA. It’s a situation where WIADCA wants our money but not our membership.”
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He added that although WIADCA has the right to select their members, as a nonprofit that received public funds from both the city and state it is obligated to comply with the state’s financial accountability and anti-discrimination laws.
Leaders of other communities claiming that they have been discriminated against also have contacted CGID to complain about the matter, Burke said.
“The same group of Trinidadians have comprised the Board for the past forty years with no transparency or inclusiveness,” Burke said. “WIADCA's Carnival launch, at the Brooklyn Borough Hall, was recently tainted by a board member who openly bragged to the audience that WIADCA is a “Trini (Trinidadian) Thing.”
The parade was created in the 1930s and held in Harlem. Today the West Indian Day Parade takes place every year on Labor Day along Brooklyn's Eastern Parkway. It is a celebration of Caribbean art, culture and history.
According to a study funded by the Empire State Development Corporation in 2003, the parade itself rakes in $86 million for every one million attendee, making it one of the largest Caribbean celebrations in the city and nation alike. Last year alone, over 3 million people attended the parade.
In the meantime, Burke has filed a discrimination complaint with the Attorney General and made Mayor Bill de Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo and local elected officials aware of the matter.
“We believe they have an obligation to make sure that WIADCA is inclusive and that people are not excluded from it structures,” Burke said. “When they attend the parade they give the perception that they embrace the ideals of WIADCA. I’m sure they do not condone the alleged practices of exclusion. Some may not even be aware of the situation.”
After the complaint was filed, Guyanese leaders and WIADCA representatives held a meeting on July 16, where they asked for a change in the membership clause.
The bylaws include that individuals 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. Afterwards, the application is subjected to approval by the board and if approved, the new member has to wait six months to vote at meetings and five years to be eligible for nomination to be elected to the Board. Board members usually serve a term of 10 years.
According to Burke, WIADCA immediately reneged on the agreement, therefore upsetting community leaders.
“It’s inexplicable that a so-called “West Indian” organization can so adamantly object to including non-Trinidadian, West Indians,” Burke said. “Our West Indian community operates as an inclusive and united village while WIADCA operates as a Trojan of insularity and exclusion. It is divisive.”
WIADCA did not respond to questions via email or the phone when contacted.