No one was sure what to think as they happened to walk past the Student Center ballrooms on Monday evening and heard Caribbean beats booming from the room, which is a formal dining facility during the day.
“Nobody haffi (has to) know,” played over the speaker. The popular line from a singer from the islands, Kranium’s recent reggae album combines English with West Indian Patois, a nod to the heritage of the region.
The Caribbean Student Organization’s (CaribSO) executive board stormed the floor, smiled, welcomed everyone, and officially started their Caribbean end-of-year party, featuring the CaribSO dance team.
The dancers displayed high kicks, gymnastics-level jumping splits that would undeniably shame Elvis Presley and, of course, some good old Jamaican whining and booty shaking.
The schedule of the night also featured spoken word addressing the black experience, a mildly sexualized performance by a few members of an African-American organization and a meal that the attendees clamored for—jerk chicken, stewed chicken, rice and peas and all the expected sides.
CaribSO is a Caribbean student organization on campus geared towards celebrating the cultures of Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica, Dominica, Haiti, Antigua and the like. Their end-of-year celebration marks a chance for students from these countries, their friends or those with any interest in a rich cultural festival to get together to eat, laugh, honor the islands and dance.
Every December at Montclair State, a university with a sizable Caribbean population, dozens of students line up in the front hall of the Student Center for the chance to get a wristband to get into CaribSO’s big party. The ballroom is overseen by a campus security officer keeping eyes on the flurry of activity inside.
Nardi, captain of the CaribSO dance team and a senior management major, decided that she wanted to continue representing her West Indian side as proudly as possible this year.
“I celebrate my unique culture just by being here,” Nardi exclaimed. “I look around and I just love to see all the Caribbean culture and all the people I can connect with.”
“Yeah, the dancers are really good,” Tajh Hutchins, a freshman and first-time attendee said as he watched.
Maybe this is what many black and Caribbean students at Montclair State need more of, according to what the consensus that night seemed to be. Shaheeda Johnson, a sophomore and member of the executive board loved the idea of people from these backgrounds and those who are interested in rich culture coming together to share the celebration and the food, while enjoying each other’s company and learning a few things.
Nardi pointed out, “We’re creating a new experience, a Montclair State West Indian experience.”
Black-Americans, second-generation Caribbean-Americans and native West Indians have an intense history of multi-ethnic solidarity, surviving, celebrating, fighting off racial challenges, and self-appreciation and affirmation movements, such as the civil rights movement. Through cultural pride at Montclair State, many are standing up to build stronger communities, and just dance.