A mammoth affair to salute Jamaica Jubilee
Derrick A. Scott
Just over 10,000 former residents and friends of Trelawny converged on scenic Bear Mountain in New York for the 31st annual Friends of Trelawny Association (FOTA) reunion picnic.
Coach buses and cars began pulling into the Anthony Wayne Recreation Area early Sunday morning, May 26, and by the time it hit mid-afternoon, the grounds of the sprawling tree-lined park was carpeted with colorful blankets, picnic tables and smoking barbecue grills.
This massive Trelawny celebration drew picnickers from as far as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, throughout the United States and Jamaica to attend what has now become a staple calendar event over the United States’ Memorial Day Weekend for residents of the parish.
It is also the only annual parish affair in the diaspora - made all the more special this year because it was also a salute to Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence.
Conversations and hearty laughter flowed freely, food and spirits were bountiful and childhood friends rekindled old ties as picnickers crowded the annual event where nothing was for sale.
As a tradition that was started by about a dozen founding families, picnickers brought their own food and drinks and freely shared with friends and strangers alike - a unique aspect of the event.
At the park, picnickers not only shared heartily in the festival of harmony, but the younger generation also participated in a variety of games such as basketball, volleyball and races. “What is interesting is that we were seeing a lot of 2nd and 3rd generation Trelawnyites who look forward to coming to the vent,” said chairman of the planning committee Michael Wattkis, for the reunion weekend.
“This gives them a chance to learn about their heritage and what makes the parish of Trelawny so special to their parents and friends.”
The picnic this year was very special as it attended by several 90 year-olds, including Iris Lawson Duckworth, who hails from Falmouth but resides in New York.
“I have heard about the Trelawny picnic for a long time but having attended the picnic today, it is everything I imagined,” said Duckworth, who was one of the first to arrive for the day. “This is great and as long as I can make it, I will continue to attend.”
The skies were threatening early in the day, but clearly no match for the determined souls intent on celebrating Trelawny, family, friendship, and homeland, and so by 2:00 in the afternoon, when the sun burst through and the temperatures soared to the mid 80s, Falmouth Mayor, Counsellor Garth Wilkerson, triumphantly declared the picnic officially open.
With thousands looking on, the mayor congratulated FOTA on the staging of this annual event. “The coming together of hundreds of former residents living abroad to this annul event is a testimony of their commitment to their parish and to your organization.
Although they have left the parish many years, their bond and commitment are still strong.” Just about every district and town in Trelawny was represented at the picnic - among them many current residents who flew up from the parish to be part of the weekend celebration.
The mayor pledged the support of the Trelawny Parish Council to working alongside FOTA to see how the parish can benefit from an event like this. U.S. Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, representing New York’s 11th Congressional District (in Brooklyn), in her remarks to the crowd also paid tribute FOTA and lauded the importance of the organisation in staging the family day in the Empire State.
“Our community depends on organisations such as the Friends of Trelawny Association, which provides an opportunity for thousands of people to meet each year to share their traditions. On behalf of the residents of the Eleventh Congressional District, I want thank you for your service to the community,” said the congresswoman, whose parents are from Jamaica.
Deputy Consul General at the Jamaica Consulate in New York, Sharon Burrell Green, commended FOTA on this signature annual event and on a series of other New York events to celebrate Trelwany and Jamaica, saying the organisation had done a phenomenal job bringing together former residents of the parish on an annual basis.
During the formalities, FOTA honoured 18 individuals who had made outstanding contributions to the organisation over the last 31 years. The Trelawny festivities had in fact begun a week earlier, on May 20, in Cambria Heights, Queens, N.Y., with a Service of Thanksgiving and Memorial.
On May 25, FOTA kicked off the reunion weekend with a black-tie event, entitled “Tribute in Gold” with just over 275 in attendance. The guest speaker was Attorney General and Member Parliament for North Trelawny, Patrick Atkinson.
Atkinson highlighted some of the major development in Trelawny, primarily in the tourism sector, and urged patrons to seize the opportunity to invest in the parish.
Jamaica’s new Consul General to New York, Mr. Herman LaMont, also brought greetings and congratulated FOTA for organising such a wonderful set of events in New York and for its dedication to the parish over these many years.
Renowned Jamaican entertainer Leroy Sibbles, backed by Anthem band from Connecticut, had the patrons rocking until the wee hours of the morning with many of his hits songs.
On Saturday, FOTA mounted its annual Small Business EXPO and Symposium, which shone the spotlight on investment opportunities in Trelawny and in Jamaica. The keynote presenter was Robert Kerr, Regional Manager, North American Regional Office of Jampro.
Atkinson and Wilkerson joined Kerr in a panel discussion following the presentation. FOTA also hosted health symposium collaboration with the Health Sector of the Jamaica Diaspora Northeast region. Health Minister Dr. Fenston Ferguson, was the featured speaker and brought about 200 attendees up to date with the state of healthcare in Jamaica.
Before his address, the Health Sector presented him with fact-finding report from a study the group conducted in Jamaica last summer. Counsellor Lloyd Gillings, representing South Trelawny, was also in attendance. FOTA also held its annual general meeting where new members of the board were elected.
Governor General, Sir Patrick Allen, and Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller, were patrons for the weekend event. Chairman of the planning committee for the weekend was beaming with much pride as he pointed out that the entire week of activities was a great success.
Mr. Wattkis said the hard work that was delivered by his committee did pay off and the parish of Trelawny will no doubt benefit from the effort. “Last year, according to state park police we had just about 7,000 attending our picnic.
This year the police have reported that we have just over 10,000. Indeed, this event is growing in participation year after year. It seems like our organization may have to acquire a park for ourselves.”
No sooner had the curtains come down n the 2012 weekend of events than plans were set in motion for the 32nd event, and next year promises to be bigger and better, according to Mr. Wattkis. Scotiabank, Grace Kennedy, Western Union and Travelwire Global sponsored this year’s FOTA reunion weekend.