junkanoofestcollage_fc.jpgMIAMI – Tourists may believe that the beauty of Miami is in its skyline and beaches. But in truth, Miami’s most attractive asset is its diverse ethnic makeup.

With more than 50 languages spoken and a population that hails from more than 100 countries, South Florida reigns as a major international region.

On any given weekend, native countrymen from Greece to South America gather to celebrate their rich heritages.

In February, the 30th Annual Saint Sophia Greek Festival was held in Miami. In March, the hot Latin festival Calle Ocho had attendees dancing in the streets. And on Saturday, April 19, Bahamians will get a chance to showcase their calypso music and seafood delicacies during Junkanoo Fest 2008 at Gibson Park in Miami.

“It was a vision that God gave me,” said Sidney Ferguson, 41, founder of Junkanoo Fest 2008, who grew up in Overtown. “I asked the Lord to lead me and this is the vision that he gave me.”

Under each tent at the festival, attendees will find foods synonymous with the islands. On the menu: cracked conch, conch salad, conch fritters, peas and rice, grouper, macaroni and cheese, coconut candy, and many other Bahamian treats.

Financing hurdles

This year’s event is Ferguson’s second gathering of Bahamian influences.

“When I first did it, I contacted all of the stores in the area and no one wanted to come on board,” said the real estate investor, who also buys and sells cars. “I took $23,000 out of my own pocket to finance the first Junkanoo Fest.”

This year, Ferguson got financial assistance from Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey M. Edmonson.

“It is always a good thing when we, within Miami-Dade County, are paying homage and celebrating the contributions of the ethnic groups that helped shape our county,” Edmonson said. “Junkanoo Fest 2008 is another occasion to commemorate the Bahamian heritage in South Florida, and there is no better place for such a grandiose event than Overtown.”

Edmonson gave a $10,000 infusion towards the event. The monies helped defray the costs of police and permits.

“I’m going to build this event up to be really nice,” said Ferguson. “As long as Overtown exists, the event will be free.”

A free event means that attendees can focus on sampling the wide variety of Bahamian dishes. One vendor who participated in last year’s event said the festival is needed to preserve a culture that was vital to the city of Miami’s existence.

“Junkanoo Fest is a very, very good idea. After all, the Grove and Overtown are full of Bahamians,” said Ed Colebrook, owner of Shantel’s Restaurant and Lounge in Miami.

“We need events like this to help preserve our culture. When he (Ferguson) asked me to participate last year, I was happy to take on the task. I sponsored some of the advertisements to promote the event.”

Colebrook, who is originally from Nassau, Bahamas, opened his restaurant in 1993. His mother, father, eight brothers and two sisters migrated to Overtown when he was 14 years old.

Names of the Commonwealth

Many other Bahamians have migrated to South Florida and have had a major influence on this region. In fact, the park where Junkanoo Fest 2008 will be held is named after Father Theodore Gibson, the preeminent civil rights leader of the 1960s and 1970s. He was pastor of the Christ Episcopal Church and was elected to the city of Miami Commission in 1972. Gibson died in 1982, but the park remains in his honor.

Other prominent surnames of the Bahamas include: Adderly, Culmer, Eneas, Ferguson, Sands, Stirrup and Carey, to name a few.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Bahamians number 8,924 in Miami-Dade County, 1,688 in Palm Beach County, and 5,263 in Broward County. Throughout the state of Florida, they are 20,500 strong, according to the Census. However, Bahamian descendants have multiplied ten-fold.

Descendants Keep Culture Alive

“When Bahamians come to the U.S. to shop, they always stop by my restaurant,” said Annmarie Anaje, owner of the Bahamian Diner in Hollywood. “I get a combination of descendants and those just looking for good food.”

Anaje’s most requested dishes vary from stewed fish to steamed fish. And occasionally, a native Bahamian will request sheep tongue souse.

“My desserts are excellent,” said Anaje, who is from Andros Island in the Bahamas.

“I make a mean coconut tart, potato bread, banana bread, and coconut cake,” she said, smiling.

Anaje also sells Goombay Punch and Junkanoo Punch, two commonly consumed drinks in the islands.

“I think that Junkanoo Fest is an advertisement in many ways for Bahamian restaurants,” said Anaje. “It gives you a point of contact and you get to promote your food face to face and network.”

“I’m expecting 5,000 people,” said Ferguson, the Junkanoo Fest’s founder.

Ferguson is now a successful businessman, but is also an ex-felon.

“I am doing the majority of the promotion myself,’’ he said. “I used to be one of the bad boys in Overtown, but now I want to give back. I was in a federal correctional institute for six years for conspiracy to distribute cocaine. That gave me a lot of time to think. Now, I want to leave a legacy for my family and my community.’’



What: Junkanoo Fest 2008

Where: Gibson Park, 1250 NW 3 Avenue

When: Saturday, April 19, noon-7 p.m.

Contact: Sidney Ferguson, 786-486-8531, ferg4life@hotmail.com