A rainbow crested over Brooklyn early on Monday morning as revelers gathered to send off the summer in the annual J’Ouvert celebration, and then march down Eastern Parkway in a whirl of flags and feathers in the city’s West Indian American Day parade.
For decades, the city’s Caribbean community celebrated its heritage in the final days of summer, as nights start to lengthen.
J’Ouvert — a contraction of two French words roughly translating to “daybreak” — is an annual street festival that celebrates emancipation from enslavement. The morning event served as a boisterous kick off to the parade, which honors Caribbean heritage and is one of the city’s most celebrated: Thousands attend every year.
Alison Connor, 55, has been a regular for 20 years. She is from Trinidad and Tobago and woke up early to make breakfast — pelau, a savory rice dish from the West Indies — for her daughter, Jenelle Elias, and her grandchildren, before they headed to the parade.
“I want them to see a part of our culture, they’re growing up in the U.S.,” said Ms. Elias, 36.
The food was spicy. The costumes were vibrant. Ground-vibrating music blared from walls of speakers. “It’s us coming together through dancing and music and food,” said Claudy Pierre, a performer with a collective called Banboche Mas, which represents people and styles from Haiti, Jamaica and other Caribbean nations.
It was Mr. Pierre’s first parade since the pandemic; he wore bright red shorts and jeweled, feathered headgear. “It has been amazing,” he said. “Good energy.”
Jewell Tracy, 31, was performing in the parade for the first time, and danced alongside another performer, whose stage name is Ms. Choppa.
Pearl sequins glinted under Ms. Tracy’s eyes, and blooming bouquets of red, white and blue feathers spread across the backs of the two dancers like bird wings. The costumes, which each cost $2,000, were custom-made.
“This is where I come from,” said Ms. Choppa, 30. “This is me.”
“I wanted to be able to celebrate my culture, and be here for the revitalization of our city after Covid,” said Shyrurah Wilson, 36, a Jamaican flag wrapped around her waist.
This year, for the first time, the New York Police Department used drones to monitor the celebrations along with Labor Day barbecues.
On Monday, Mayor Eric Adams praised how safe the days before the parade had been, calling them: “One of the safest carnival weeks in the history of our city.”
In past years, violence has occasionally occurred alongside the festivals; at the J’Ouvert event in Boston last month, a shooting wounded eight people. On Monday, however, police officials said that there had been no notable safety incidents. Mr. Adams, a security technology enthusiast, credited the police presence and the drones.
The police have used drones throughout the summer: To tell Pride revelers to go home, to monitor the unruly video game giveaway in Union Square and to watch for sharks. Some have criticized them as illegal, overbearing and racist: Most of the West Indian parade marchers are Black.
In Brooklyn, many attendees shrugged at the police presence. Some said they appreciated it.
“It makes me feel more safe,” said Manuel McIntosh, 44, who came down from his home in the Bronx for the first time in years.
New York is home to over 600,000 residents of non-Hispanic Caribbean descent.
The smells of savory corn soup wafted around Lenny Mcleod, 52, as he stabbed at the jerk chicken wings that sizzled inside his barrel-shaped grill. He had been cooking along the route for four days, and sold 20 boxes of chicken, each with 40 pounds of meat.
“Business has been good,” he said.
Terell Truss and Colleen Theresa watched the parade still smeared with red body paint from walking in the J’Ouvert celebration.
They came together for the first time. Ms. Theresa, 23, is from Trinidad and Tobago; He has Jamaican heritage. She joked that she brought him “to see if he could keep up.”
Mr. Truss, 29, said he had already been coming for years.
“It’s a family thing,” he said. “Celebrate my family, see some family.”