Arts and culture are alive within the Laventille community with many cultural groups and organisations actively recruiting youth in the area to participate in cultural activities which they say can ultimately turn youngsters away from a life of crime. Last week we highlighted the Picton Folk Performers, a group of talented singers, dancers and drummers from the area. This week we recognise the contribution of the Laventille Steelband Festival Foundation (LSFF) in changing the negative perceptions surrounding the community.
The LSFF was established in 1999 as a committee under the management of the Laventille Community Complex. It was officially registered as a Foundation in early 2007. Its main objective, according to Chairman Michael Cooper, was to use the steelpan as a tool to uplift the people in the community.
In 1999, the Foundation launched its first annual street parade as a celebration of Emancipation. This street parade has become a staple of Emancipation celebrations each year, drawing thousands of people from all across the country into the troubled area. In a spectacular display of unity, a large crowd parades through the streets in what has been called the largest steelband event outside of Panorama. This year, over 30 bands from Laventille and environs participated in the parade.
“One of our main goals was to highlight the positives in Laventille and to attract a tremendous amount of people from outside the community into the community,” Cooper said. “And we have been largely successful in doing so.” “In fact, the only significant events that take place in the Laventille community are produced by the LSFF,” Cooper added. Cooper stressed that most of the bands are made up of youngsters under the age of 15. The 64-year-old Chairman, who has been with the Foundation since its inception, says despite the massive crowd and the negative reputation of the area, the festival has been safe and completely incident free in all its 16 years, a fact that he takes great pride in.
“We have had 16 street parades so far and they have all been untainted by any kind of crime,” he said. “And all of our other productions have been unmarred by crime.” Because of this, Cooper said the festival has established a strong reputation for being disciplined and secure. “We portray the pride of Laventille to counter the negative images that we continue to see in the media,” Cooper said. “This is where we consider our impact to be most beneficial.”
Apart from the parade however, the Foundation has launched several initiatives over the years to assist in the development of youth in the area.
These include “pan camps” targeted at children, pan contests, concerts, and steelband management workshops. The Foundation had also previously organised a “March for Peace” to peacefully protest against the criminal activity plaguing the area. But limited resources and the emergence of similar programmes led to the cancellation of some of these initiatives. “We ran the children’s pan camps for about five years until Angostura started having similar camps targeting the same children, so we gave way to Angostura on that,” Cooper said.
“We really just want to see development in the community,” he insisted. “So if some other bigger organisation wants to take over, we make way for them and try to encourage them because we don’t have a lot of resources.” In 2006, the Foundation also established the Gems of Laventille, Outstanding Spirit and Soul (GLOSS) Awards. These awards were initially given to persons from the community who have contributed to the development of pan, or in recognition of community service.
“We give these awards to people who we believe have made significant contributions to Laventille,” Cooper explained. “Then we had the idea to use the awards to honour icons in the community. What we do is hold a light to wherever there is positive activity in the community.” Previous recipients of the award include national footballer Russell Latapy, calypsonian Mighty Bomber, soca songstress Destra Garcia and MP Marlene Mc Donald, who all hail from Laventille.
Cooper wants the Foundation to receive more attention and support from corporate entities. “The resources that we have at our disposal have been dwindling over the years and our support base has become much smaller than when we first started,” he said. “The Ministry of National Security has come on board as our biggest supporter because they have recognised the impact that we are having in the community. They recognise that these are the sort of activities that will help in the fight against crime.”
As for the lack of corporate sponsorship, Cooper says “I guess Laventille is not a very attractive place to sponsor anything in.”
He does however acknowledge the contributions of Angostura and Panland, who he says have been keen supporters of the Foundation’s efforts over the years.
LSFF founding member and Vice Chairman Julien Cudjoe passed away last Wednesday. Cooper said Cudjoe was instrumental in getting the Foundation to where it is today.