A Trip to the African Day Parade

by Kathleen Culliton

New York City is a place that draws people away from their homes. But does it ever become home?

The stretch of W. 134th Street between Lenox Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard is thronged with people in dashikis and togas of pink, blue, green, you name it. And they’re keeping busy. On every corner there’s singing and drumming.

And the African Day Parade hasn’t even begun yet. This is just the crowd getting warmed up. African flags wave in the cool fall breeze. Women are wearing them as dresses. Men are resting flagpoles on their shoulders and enormous flags fall down their backs. Kids are clutching tiny ones on plastic sticks as they dash and duck through the crowds.

The Gambians are on one corner helping each other get dressed – tightening knots of fabric and fixing makeup. The Ethiopians sit around a streetlight and a drummer who warms up with sporadic beats. The group from Togo take it all in.

A troupe of dancers draw a crowd to the center of the street. The women move their hips. Some are barefoot, others are wearing Nikes. Everyone seems easy. Even though the clothes, the moves and the sounds are from a place a hemisphere away, the crowd looks at home.

It’s a New York block party.