The Father of Brooklyn's Carnival

"Many thousands travel great distances to be a part of the wonder and excitement that is Carnival. For the first timers, the experience can be magical and addictive. To everyone--enjoy the beauty warmth of just being here--enjoy and have a good time."
Carlos Lezama 1998

New York  
carnaval.com/
caribbean
1998 Welcome Message by Carlos Lezama
History of ICCA

2 2007 World Carnival Conferences in South and North Africa in 2007
wiadca.com/
 West Indian American Day Carnival Association producer of Brooklyn Carnival
 
dies at 83: Carlos Lezama passed away on January 22, 2007 around 11 am Monday at Kings County Hospital following a sustained period of illness.
"This carnival was a labor of love. It was not about money or anything but simple love of this beautiful culture that brings people together from all races, classes and creeds. Carnival is a beautiful thing. Its pure healthy fun and I am glad that I helped to establish it as a major part of this city,"
Carlos Lezama said when he retired in 2001
For his efforts in promoting the rich culture of Caribbean people and thus enriching the cultural life of New York City, Mr. Lezama has been officially recognized and honored by four Governors of New York State including Govs. Carlos has been officially recognized and honored by scores of organizations and by four Governors of New York State including Govs. Nelson Rockefeller, Hugh Carey, Mario Cuomo, and George Pataki. In addition, during their respective mayoralties, Carlos has received numerous awards from Mayors John Lindsay, Abe Beame, Ed Koch, David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani
 

 

 

 Carlos Lezama
1924 Trinidad to
 2007 Brooklyn

"Throughout our lives, my siblings, as well as my mother, have been privileged to share my father with the millions who are part of the carnival family. I am grateful that he has left an impressive legacy of which we all as Caribbean people can be proud."  Yolanda Lezama-Clark (who is also the president of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association.


EVERYBODY’S Caribbean Magazine publisher, Herman Hall, says, “As a young member and director of the West Indian-American Day Carnival Association in the early 1970s. Lezama influenced, motivated and inspired me. I knew what Mr. Lezama endured to develop the annual carnival on Labor in Brooklyn. He brought recognition to the Caribbean-American community, united us and played a major role in enhancing the quality of life in New York City. He was admired and respected byImage governors and mayors of New York State and City respectively. He was a great and charismatic leader.”


In 2001 when Carlos retired as President of the Carnival, Councilmember  Yvette Clarke, 36, said
"Carlos has contributed mightily to the cultural understanding and enrichment of New York City. "
"He’s a positive role model, a leader, and innovator and certainly one of the finest people in New York. I applaud his contribution and wish him all the best in his retirement," Clarke said.


Henry Antoine, former president of the International Caribbean Carnival Association (ICCA), the international organization of Trinidad-style carnivals in Canada, North America and Europe, that is based in Boston, said that he’s known Lezama for about 34 years and had high praises for him. Lezama is also a founding member of the ICCA and its "president emeritus."

"Carlos has done a great job of bringing to the international community the true meaning of Caribbean carnival and culture. He is truly "the father if Brooklyn’s Labor Day Carnival."


 



In 2001, the Carnival route - Eastern Parkway – was renamed Carlos Lezama Parkway for that year’s Carnival Season. And in 2004, the Carlos Lezama Archives and Caribbean Cultural Center, located at the Lezama’s family landmark home of 1028 St. John’s Place in Brooklyn, was inaugurated as a lasting tribute to the man dubbed as “The Father of Brooklyn’s Carnival.”

 


LAST WEEK, WE LOST A LEGEND — THE HEART AND SOUL OF BROOKLYN’S CARIBBEAN COMMUNITY.
 BY FOUNDING THE WEST INDIAN AMERICAN CARNIVAL IN 1967 AND MOVING IT FROM HARLEM TO EASTERN PARKWAY — WHERE IT HAS GROWN INTO THE LARGEST PARADE IN NEW YORK CITY —
 CARLOS LEZAMA HELPED MAKE BROOKLYN THE PROUD CARIBBEAN CAPITAL OF AMERICA.
 I LIKE TO JOKE THAT I’M A TRINI FROM TOONA POONA —
 BUT CARLOS WAS TRINI TO THE BONE
 --- I THINK HIS BIG HEART POUNDED TO A CALYPSO BEAT.
 HIS DAUGHTER YOLANDA LEZAMA CLARKE HAS MADE IT HER MISSION TO ESTABLISH NEW YORK’S FIRST CARIBBEAN-AMERICAN MUSEUM TO HONOR HIS MEMORY — AND I PROUDLY SUPPORT HER.
 SHE IS HERE WITH US TONIGHT — SO WE CAN ALL SAY— “JUMP UP” AND THANK YOU CARLOS!
 Borough President Marty Markowitz's 2007 state of the borough address


In lieu of flowers, the Lezama Family is asking that donations be made instead to the not-for-profit the Carlos Lezama Archives and Caribbean Cultural Center and mailed to 1028 St. Johns Place, Brooklyn, NY 11213. For additional info. call 718-467-1797. –DONATIONS CAN BE FOWARDED TO CLACC-C , 1028 St John's Pl , Brooklyn. NY, 11213

Carlos Lezama spent his formative years in Trinidad where he played Mas and learned to play the Steelpan as a young man. In fact he played the Cello and was nicknamed "Celloman" a name and position he enjoyed while working on a passenger ship before migrating to the USA. In those days, Carlos lived in Venezuela with his wife Hilary, before he joined the early migration of Caribbeans to the United States in the early fifties.

In typical immigrant fashion, he worked hard at various jobs until he joined the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority, in the mid-sixties. At NYTA he moved up steadily for the next twenty years until he became a machinist. In 1989, he retired from that Agency.

Carlos and his wife Hilary Yolanda Lezama, a Trinidadian, who also shared his love and dedication to the "Carnival," became parents to a son Kenwyn, and a daughter Yolanda.
The West Indian Day Parade was founded in the 1920s by Ms. Jessie Waddle and some of her West Indian friends in Harlem. They staged costume parties in large enclosed places — like the Savoy, Renaissance Ballroom and Audubon Ballroom during the traditional pre-Lenten February season.

 In the mid-1940s, Trinidadian Jesse Waddle (sometimes spelled Wattle) organized a street festival held on Labor Day, on 7th Avenue in Harlem. The parade permit for Harlem was revoked in 1964 following a disturbance.

During the 1960's, another Trinidadian - Rufus Goring, brought Carnival to Brooklyn. In 1967, Mr. Lezama was passed the reigns to the Brooklyn carnival by his friend, Goring. In 1969, a committee headed by Carlos Lezama obtained permission to parade on Eastern Parkway. That committee became the West Indian-American Day Carnival Association, now a rather well-established organization.

 
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A key to the success and stability of the Brooklyn Carnival over the many decades of Mr. Lezama's stewardship was his vision of integration with  the Brooklyn Museum, the jewel of Brooklyn's artistic heritage, into the celebration itself. Through his leadership,  WIADCA partnered with a great and continuing legacy  by erecting a massive stage behind the vener able museum building and of course the Caribbean village of vendors. It was here Lezama was able to grow the Carnival and its dedicated organization in a controlled organic fashion. By the mid-nineties the Carnival had become arguably North America's largest cultural celebration and a centerpiece to New York well founded claim as the capital of the Caribbean, afterall  the New York metro area was aslo the largest Caribbean immigrant community in the world, doing business in the world's capital.

Mr. Lezama had also worked for the MTA as a machinist. Mayor Ed Koch told the AP, "[Lezama] was someone who had a dream and saw it fulfilled. This was on his mind more than trains."

 Over the years the Carnival underwent many changes prior to Labor Day - with Steelband Panorama, Dimanche Gras, Costume Competition, Calypso Monarch, Kiddies Carnival and more replicating events of Trinidad & Tobago's Carnival.

 Resident of Crown Heights for over 30 years, site of disturbances with Blacks, West Indians and Jews in 1991, Carlos is credited with an historic peace move that resulted in bringing the factions together for which he was aptly recognized by many Community Organizations. He ensured that the carnival wasn't disrupted when critics objected to then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani's participation as a grand marshal in 1995, when the carnival coincided with Rosh Hashanah in 1994 and after the August 1991 disturbances in Crown Heights that were triggered when a car driven by a Jewish man struck and killed a young black boy. 

He nurtured the organization and carnival celebrations till 2001, when, due to his ill health he retired. His wife Hilary also passed away that same year.

Events are held every year from the Thursday before Labor Day through the weekend, culminating in the parade on Labor Day itself which is always the first Monday in September. The parade now proceeds from Utica Avenue along Eastern Parkway to Grand Army Plaza. Highlights include a steel band competition, a Dimanche Gras (Fat Sunday) extravaganza and a special Kiddie Carnival which runs from President Street to the grounds of the Brooklyn Museum of Art on Carnival Saturday.

Carlos was blessed to be able to celebrate fifty years of marriage   until his wife, Hilary's death in 2001.  Carlos Lezama is survived by four grandchildren and a growing brood of great grandchildren.

Carlos continued to be involved with his life's greatest love "Carnival" as the Chairman Emeritus of WIADCA till he passed.

Aside from its economic impact, the Carnival is an assertion of pan-Caribbean culture, bringing together people from different island nations under one umbrella, and demonstrating to the rest of the world the power and vibrancy of the peoples of the Caribbean. Politicians from within and outside of the Caribbean community are keen to make their presence felt in Brooklyn on Labor Day, a day to see and to be seen.

Carlos_Lezama-8JUN.jpg The most incomprehensible art form was his life's work:
"The statue is then beautiful when it begins to be incomprehensible, when it is passing out of criticism and can no longer be defined by compass and measuring-wand, but demands an active imagination to go with it and to say what it is in the act of doing. the god or hero of the sculpture is always represented in a transition from that which is representable to the senses, to that which is not."
R.W. Emerson on Love
Uniting the World
"Carnival arts offers all of us a dynamic tool for self-expression and exploration, a tool to seek out our roots, a tool to develop new forms of looking at the world and its cultures, and finally, a tool to unite the world, to discover what we all have in common, and to celebrate what makes us different. The power and creativity that underlies these art forms can transform lives. Join hands as All Ah We, and together we will dance the song of life!"
History of Carnival at allahwe.org