Community Voices

Black in Time: Goombay rebrand to Miami Bahamas Junkanoo Festival focuses on youth

Craig Curry, athletic director, SWAC championship game, 2006 University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff, (formerly Arkansas AM&N)
Craig Curry, athletic director, SWAC championship game, 2006 University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff, (formerly Arkansas AM&N) Courtesy of John Tate

Rebranding is a strategy that brings new meaning to an established product or event.

For nearly 40 years the Miami/Bahamas Goombay Festival celebrated Coconut Grove’s black pioneer Bahamian settlement and legacy to a general audience. The one-day festival began in conjunction with the United States’ 1976 Bicentennial celebration. A Third Century Miami-Dade County project it eventually drew thousands of national and international tourists.

In 2015, it was renamed the Miami Bahamas Junkanoo Festival and repurposed to follow a weeklong series of events designed to focus on youth and empower them through education, employment, entrepreneurial opportunities, and leadership. The series will showcase current and former Coconut Grove residents whose role models prepared them to work hard and attain success in education, politics, business, science and sports.

The term Junkanoo compliments the West African term Sankofa. The intent is to expose youth to the importance of learning from the past, connecting to one’s roots, and moving forward to achieve their full potential.

From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, July 25, in the West Grove, residents, visitors and tourists of all ages are invited to enjoy the traditional one day event with the colorful Junkanoo parade with brightly costumed people dancing to the rhythmic sounds of cowbells, drums, and whistles. In booths from Douglas Road and Grand Avenue to U.S. 1, vendors will prepare and serve authentic Bahamian and Southern cuisine.

Local celebrities leading the parade, Coconut Grove pioneers Thelma Gibson, a former Miami commissioner, and retired astronaut Winston Scott, will welcome the youth. Pioneer Leona-Cooper Baker will give the tour of the Grove Village West and the McFarlane Homestead Historic District.

Stories will be told by pioneers whose ancestors helped contribute to the development of the area from the 1880s to the present. University of Miami associate professor Edmund Abaka will speak on the contributions of black Bahamians to the incorporation of the City of Miami, the building of Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, and all of South Florida during the first half of the 20th century.

The Wellness Fair presented by Baptist Health of South Florida will offer health screenings and interactive activities including arts therapy and expressive arts for seniors; Abrakadoddle’s Multicultural and Intergenerational Arts and Crafts Station; and massage therapy stations. Family entertainment presented by the Diaspora Arts Coalition will include Flagler train rides, drumming, stilt walking workshops, steel pan demonstrations, basket weaving, Dean of Green Ecomusical, and limbo and coconut tree climbing races.

Staging and activity locations will occur in sites named for accomplished pioneers: Frances Tucker Elementary School, George Washington Carver Middle School, Frankie Shannon Rolle Community Action Agency Center as well Esther Armbrister and Elizabeth Verrick city parks.

For purchase will be authentic cuisine, hand-made straw handbags, hats, dolls, quilting, native books, fashions, textiles, native crafts, including wood carvings, pottery, jewelry, Abaco ceramics, food and drink native to the Bahamas, specialty products such as guava jelly, coconut candy, sugar cane, and more.

In planning this year’s festival a week of fun and educational experiences and opportunities for youth was proposed culminating with the Junkanoo Festival. New energy and new ideas repurposed the festival connecting Coconut Grove youth with Bahamian youth to explore the literary, visual and performing arts, careers and entrepreneurship, sports, creativity, and leadership.

During the week Graylyn Swilley Woods of the Multicultural Tourism Department, Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, will introduce Career Experience Stops at Royal Caribbean Productions, Historic Lyric Theater, Sony Music International, Sapient Nitro Advertising, and PortMiami. Retired educator Freddie Young will participate in the Youth Leadership Conference.

The showstopper for the rebranded festival and week of youth activities will be the sports figures who grew up in Coconut Grove’s west side. Growing up in Coconut Grove, Anthony Witherspoon Sr., Craig Curry, and Isaac “Ike” Fullard, II were impressed with the way upper class student athletes and experienced coaches carried themselves on and off the field.

Curry said, “When we were in high school ‘the big boys’ and our coaches lead by example. They were our mentors.” During the eve of racial integration black students living in the southern end of Miami-Dade County graduated from George Washington Carver Senior High, Arthur and Polly Mays and Coral Gables senior high schools. Individually and collectively some were impressed with the way their mentors presented themselves.

Now Curry, Fullard, and Witherspoon are returning home to share their skills and knowledge with today’s youth. Beyond sports each attained success as in education and later as entrepreneurs. Giving back, they have made arrangements for youth to participate in the Junkanoo Youth Leadership Conference, sports tournament and the Grove Sports Hall of Fame.

Prior to Saturday’s Junkanoo Festival, the accomplished athletes will introduce themselves to the youth. Curry is a former athletic director at two historically black universities (HBCU): Albany State College and University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff. Later an academic advisor, compliance officer and recruiter at the University of Michigan and University of South Carolina he is an author; and academic and athletic consultant.

Fullard, a former school administrator, owns two businesses on the Black Shopping Channel headquartered in Palm Beach. Witherspoon a former college basketball coach and counselor at HBCU Fort Valley State University is an entrepreneur and Executive Director of a nonprofit youth development organization that mentors youth to reach their full potential and live out proven leadership principles. He is the publisher/editor of Leadership Prep Teen Magazine and president/ceo of Leadership Prep Foundation.

Witherspoon is also the founder of the International Sports Festival. It was through the magazine and sports organization that he established the Grove Sports Hall of Fame. The first inductees are outstanding pioneer athletes from the 1960s to the present including Ike Fullard, Craig Curry, the late Traz Powell and the late Neal Colzie.

The inaugural event will coincide with the 2015 Miami Bahamas Junkanoo Festival and take place Friday, July 24, at Sonesta Beach Hotel Coconut Grove.

Pioneers and youth will meet at the International Sports Festival basketball and soccer tournaments. The inductees will share their leadership stories and encourage questions. Youth interested in participating can visit: www.miamibahamasjunkanoofest.com.

The rebranding of Goombay focusing on youth is an ambitious undertaking. Hosted by the Greater Miami Host Committee, the partners include the city of Miami, the Consulate General of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority, and Miami-Dade County.

According to Greater Miami Host Executive Director Cornelia “Corky” Dozier: “It is our hope that the festival and weeklong activities will provide experiences for youth to better understand communities of the African Diaspora through cultural awareness, diversity, education, health and wellness, economic empowerment and leadership.”

Dorothy Jenkins Fields, PhD, is a historian and founder of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida Inc. Send feedback to djf@bellsouth.net.

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