Dr Lynette M Lashley, PhD
“This is phenomenal. Never in the history of Nelson Street, has an event like this ever occurred. It was incident-free,” said Julian “Vice” Cudjoe, a former policeman, who was born and raised on St Joseph Road, near to Nelson Street, Port-of-Spain. In the same vein, David Faltine of Belmont, said: “It was beautiful. I never expected that to come out of Nelson Street. That goes to show that there is still love in Nelson Street.” Marilyn Evans, a Belmont retired high school History teacher at St Francois Girls’ and St James Secondary, said: “I have taught upstanding students from that area, and I came to support them. This was a fantastic idea.” Cudjoe, Faltine, and Evans were referring to the recent Icons of Nelson Street celebration, which took place during the hectic week of Trinidad and Tobago’s 50th anniversary of Independence, under the patronage of City Sun Valley Pan Groove, the community’s resident steelband.
The event was the brainchild of Lance Lashley, retired CID Police Inspector, and former member of the now defunct Flying Squad, a non-native “Nelsonian,” who has adopted Nelson Street. Lashley asked: “Other communities were having steelband street festivals to commemorate T&T’s 50th year of Independence, so why not Nelson Street?” Lashley received a “thumbs down” after broaching the idea to his immediate relatives, but was not discouraged. He persevered, and mentioned it to Gerard Mendez, Manager of City Sun Valley Pan Groove, who thought the idea was a great one. Mendez suggested that the event ought to incorporate an Awards’ ceremony. Individuals and organisations from the Nelson Street community, and its environs, should be honoured for their outstanding contributions to T&T in their respective fields of endeavours, over the last 50 years. Mendez and Lashley, subsequently, formed a planning committee, and Icons of Nelson Street was born. Mendez became the spokesperson for the group. They identified the date, time, location for the event, and the steelbands to be invited. City Sun Valley would serve as host steelband; and DJ Cutting Crew would supply the music during the intervals.
The group then identified the prospective recipients, in the areas of Sport, Politics, Public Service, Culture, Commerce, and Education. Mendez and Lashley worked assiduously, seeking and obtaining financial, and other support from the central government, and the Port of Spain City Corporation, as well as individuals and organisations. Icons of Nelson Street came to fruition with everything as planned. The celebration was well attended by the native residents of the area, as well as those who were not. A cross-section of the community was present—the elderly, middle-aged, young, adolescents, children, toddlers, and even one or two babies in strollers. Children were able to participate in the amusement specially set aside for them before the official programme. Toys were distributed. It was a coming-together of all “Nelsonians,” regardless of the lines of demarcation of turf in gang rivalry. Enterprising residents were able to sell their food, and delicacies, to generate income, without fear. The event was very emotional for some of the elderly, and longtime residents. Some cried, shedding tears of joy at the success of the occasion. Some said that they never ever thought that in 2012, it was possible for this to be realised in such a despised community. They were grateful to the organisers.
Barbara Rupert Solomon, a senior citizen who has lived on Nelson Street since 1966, said that in those 46 years it has changed. The elderly did not have that fear of the community as they have now. For the celebration, however, many of them ventured out, so Solomon thinks that it was an excellent idea. “I appreciate and enjoyed it. It was great to see that although there is violence in Nelson Street, people were still able to enjoy themselves without any disturbances.” Lennox Toussaint, Roman Catholic deacon, blessed the formal opening of the celebration. Before the awards were handed out, Cathyan Townsend, who has lived on Nelson Street all her life, delivered a stirring account of its raison d’etre, and history. She said that she was troubled by the imbalance in the reporting of Nelson Street by the media. “Before a body hits the ground, the media are there looking for a story,” said Townsend. “Some good things have happened, and are happening in Nelson Street. Just as how they rush to cover the negative, they should also use the same energy to seek out the positive sometimes.”
The holder of a BSc in Computer Information Systems, Townsend has just completed her thesis for her MSc in Occupational and Environmental Safety. She works as a Systems Analyst with the Immigration Division of the Trinidad and Tobago Public Service, and has been a part-time lecturer in Information Technology at COSTAATT, since 1998. Townsend said that some young people are excelling, and are exemplary role models. For instance, Maurice Ford, 15, is part of the National Under-17 football team. The two sons of Dane Gulston, ace pan player with Neal & Massy Trinidad All Stars, and arranger for City Sun Valley, are following in their father’s footsteps. Denelson, 13, placed second in the Trinbago Kids Got Talent competition, while Daniel, eight, played the pan with the recent Military Tattoo staged to commemorate the 50th Independence celebrations. Nelson Street has its direct and indirect icons. Kay Christopher, for example, became the first Queen of Carnival, 49 years ago. She has held subsequent titles over the years. It might surprise some to know that Christopher’s roots are from Nelson Street.
In an interview on a live television broadcast of Pan on the Avenue, which took place recently, she said that her father, who was from Nelson Street, had socialised her into playing mas’ since the age of two. He used to “disguise” her, and have her participate in Kiddies’ Carnival. Christopher, has become an icon in the Carnival arena, and this glory could well be extended to Nelson Street, because of her father. Twenty-one icons of Nelson Street were selected, and presented with awards for their sterling accomplishments in each honoree’s field of endeavour, over the last 50 years. The recipients were: Donna Cox and Martin Joseph, for Politics; Angela Pierre and Hilda Prescott for Education; Dane Gulston, Narcenio “Senio” Gomez, Sedley “Mighty Penguin” Joseph, Bertram Bob Thomas, Trinidad All Stars, Desperadoes, BP Renegades for Culture; Russell Tesheira (posthumous), Everard “Gally” Cummings, Densil Theobald, Daniel David for Sport; Muriel Stowe, Chee Mooke Bakery, John Noel, Vernol Edwards for Commerce; and John Sandy, Roy Augustus, for National Service.
After the presentation of the awards, the participating steelbands provided entertainment for the rest of the evening. Three of T&T’s top Panorama champions —Trinidad All Stars, Phase II Pan Groove, and Desperadoes—along with Freelancers Pan Groove, La Famille Steel Orchestra, and the host, City Sun Valley Pan Groove, acquitted themselves well, musically. The crowd danced non-stop to the scintillating rhythms of the pan, until the event ended at 11.30 pm, with some patrons calling for more. The organisers of Icons of Nelson Street, residents of the community, the steelbands, DJ, and other supporters of this revolutionary, historical occasion should be highly commended for its resounding success. That event gave Nelson Street the opportunity to showcase to Trinidad and Tobago, in the country’s 50th year of Independence, that that community too, has “icons” that have made, and continue to make meaningful contributions to the nation. Although the present crime situation might be a deterrent, glory has, and could come from Nelson Street.
Dr Lynette M Lashley, PhD