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Massive 51st Independence Anniversary parade and dance in New Jersey

Massive 51st Independence Anniversary parade and dance in New Jersey

Sierra Leoneans in New Jersey last Saturday rebranded their country with another exquisitely pulsating and action-packed Independence Anniversary celebration that showcased Sierra Leone’s exotic art and culture to the international world. The celebration started with a captivating Sierra Leone parade and carnival in the streets of Franklin Township, Somerset and ended with an entertaining picnic at the Naaman Williams Park , followed by a massive dance later in the night at the Somerset Hotel.

The carnival and dance, which kicked off Sierra Leone’s 5ist Independence Anniversay in the US shook Somerset and was another masterclass like last year’s and will be the talk of the town for years to come, thanks to the organizers, the Sierra Leone Community in New Jersey (SLCNJ) made up of many organizations and the leading political parties, the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) and the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), and the People’s Movement for Democratic Change ( PMDC ).

Throngs of dazzled Americans, Asians, Hispanics and Caribbean islanders streamed out of their homes along the parade routes to watch the carnival and see Sierra Leone culture and pride on show. The electrifying parade featured picturesque floats draped in green, white, and blue with Sierra Leonean music booming over huge loudspeakers, masked devils that included an ojeh hunting society, kaykayray, and fairie and animated revellers dancing alongside the floats, bringing Central Franklin Township to a standstill for many hours.

With the two surprise grand marshals , Sierra Leone’s Minister Plenipotentiary to the UN, Hon. Leeroy Wilfred Kabs-Kanu and the eminent Bishop of the Coptic Church, Rev. PNK Manages waving gracefully to the surging crowds, the parade snaked its way through the principal streets of Somerset to the park where the celebrations climaxed with performances by various artists, cultural groups and masked devils. In attendance were not only an illustrious galaxy of distinguished Sierra Leoneans from other states in the Continental USA and Canada, but the Mayor of Franklin-Somerset, His Lordship Mr. Brian Levine, Deputy Mayor Phil Kramer and township officials.

If there were any lingering stereotypes about Sierra Leone, following the devastating civil war the country went through in the 1990s which led to negative publicity from the Western media , these images have now been banished out of the minds of many Americans in this part of the country after last year’s jubilee celebrations and this year’s 51st Anniversary jamboree, which have successfully projected Sierra Leone as a vibrant country with diverse cultures and passionate and respectable citizens who are very proud of their country. After a decade of ugly, pessimistic TV and media pictures of Sierra Leone – of killings, amputations, destruction of infrastructure during the war, chronic suffering and poverty — another image of Sierra Leone that is very impressive and positive is gradually taking over, with curious people now interested enough in Sierra Leone to make research of their own and learn that Sierra Leone was once a great nation, despite her small size and the socio-political and economic tribulations that befell her after Independence.

The sight of Mayor Levine and his Deputy riding the lead float alongside the grand marshals and joining them to wave to crowds of excited onlookers lining the parade route was a great joy to behold.

Among the participants in the parade and picnic, who enjoyed themselves exceedingly, were children of Sierra Leoneans born in the US, whose interest in the country of their parents and guardians has been been set alight by the positive image the country has accrued over the years through splendid socio-economic and political developments and President Ernest Koroma’s annual “pilgrimage” to the US to attend the UN General Assembly and the thrilling celebrations that have attended each and every one of them. Even the kids now know that their parents hail from a once-great nation that they are very proud of and that will soon hold abundant possibilities for them as it continues its amazing recovery from war.

The Naaman Williams Park was already jampacked with revellers, amidst barbecuing of chicken and fish and hawking of cold drinks, when the floats and the masked devils got there and the carnival at the park commenced. Some schoolchildren, led by Madam Lasayo , sang the American National Anthem,  followed by Sierra Leone’s National Anthem, sung in throatful euphony by young and multi-talented sculptor Professor Richmond Garrick. Rev. Dr. Manages offered the christian prayers while the muslim prayers were said by Sheik Mohamed Allie. The MC  an articulate SLPP member , Mr. Abdulai Abubakar, then took over the show and he dished out a good treat. He demonstrated excellent skills in communication.

The welcome address was given by the Chairman of SLCNJ, Mr. Lamin Alharazim, after which the HSBCC Executive Director Mike Papas, whose organization had been of profound help in staging the two Independence Anniversary celebrations said a few words; Deputy Mayor Kramer and Mayor Levine delivered statements during which Mayor Levine hailed Sierra Leone’s recovery from war and the impressive progress she is making now.

Madam Madina Rahman then introduced the two Grand Marshals who each made brief remarks. Minister Plenipotentiary Kabs-Kanu thanked SLCNJ and participants for rebranding Sierra Leone in a positive light through the parade and diverse cultural show. He outlined the progress Sierra Leone has made since it emerged from war and said that apart from the infrastructural developments and efforts to achieve self-sufficiency in food production, Sierra Leone now has one of the most thriving multi-party democracies in Africa and he dispelled fears that the forthcoming elections would be violent. He assured the crowd that Government has put in place structures to ensure not only a free and fair elections but peace and security during the polls. He told the crowd that President Ernest Koroma, a man of peace, has assured the nation and the diplomatic community that his government was committed to free, fair, credible, and peaceful elections.

Dr. Abdul Rahman Kamara introduced the organization, FB3, which, through the instrumentality of Miss Jenneh Mustapha – daughter of Community Leader Mr. Ahmad Sanusi Mustapha – will be leaving for Sierra Leone to engage in benevolent services in the area of health care delivery. Dr. Rahman Kamara also introduced SLCNJ members and reserved a lot of praise for Messrs Foday Mansaray, Susan Bona, Alharazim, Hadi Gabisi , the SLPP North American Branch leader Mr. Jerry George and New Jersey Chapter leader Mr. Saidu Amara, Melbourne Garber etc.etc. for their remarkable contribution to the SLCNJ and the planning of the Independence Anniversary.

The keynote speaker, popular broadcaster of VOA fame, Mr. David Vandi, was introduced by Madam Susan Bona . In his statement, Mr. Vandi called on parents and guardians and the relevant authorities to pay more attention to the young people and help them overcome juvenile delinquency and indiscipline.

Mr. Hindolo Barnet introduced the Youth who made a presentation, followed by performances from the various artists and cultural groups. The Youth musical group called THE LOST KINGS sent the park wild with excitement and ovation, especially from the young ones who surged forward and rocked to the lyrics of the group. Also keeping the crowd on its toes was the cultural tap-dancer, Papa O, whose magical display with his feet brought continous cheers. Also making star performances and thrilling the crowd were The Boys, Big Ray, the Sierra Leone Cultural Society, the Hunting, ogugu and faerie mask devils.

The vote of thanks was given by Mr. Foday Mansaray and thus ended another memorable parade and carnival .

During the night, the SLCNJ staged their 51st Independence Celebrations Dance at the Somerset-Bridgewater Hotel at 110 Davidson Avenue, Somerset. The dance was jammed to capacity and unlike past practices, the music and dancing flowed uninterrupted. There were no speeches or side events; just continous dancing to the exhiliarating music.

Present at the dance were the Chairman of SLPP North America, Mr. Jerry George , the President of SLPP New Jersey Mr. Saidu Amara, and party stalwart Mr. Brima Alpha.

Kabs Kanu, USA

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