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Colorfully clad revelers make their way through Brooklyn as part of West Indian parade

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio marches

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio marches in the West Indian American Day parade in Brooklyn on Monday, Sept. 07, 2015. Credit: Charles Eckert

On a warm, cloudless Labor Day morning, the fast beats of soca blended with the NYPD band playing a steel drum version of Bob Marley's "One Love" as floats inched down Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights for the start of the annual West Indian American Day Carnival Parade.

Many revelers wore the flags of their respective home nations draped as colorful, patriotic capes around their shoulders.

Others "playing mas," or masquerade, wore bright, neon feathers in their headdresses and at their elbows and knees. Men and women wore skin-baring costumes that included jewel-encrusted bras or heavily sequined silk shorts.

Dianne Hunt-Roman stood outside the apartment building where she said she's lived the past 29 years since moving from Grenada.

Hunt-Roman, 40, a child care worker, said she's come to the parade every year she's lived here. "The best part of the parade is getting in the parade and getting into the mix," Hunt-Roman said. "Get inside and move your hips, and by the time you're done you will lose five pounds."

Wearing the red, yellow and green of her native Grenada, she said the parade was about the Caribbean community coming together.

"Today is a melting pot," Hunt-Roman said. "All the islands together and in unity."

Indeed, flags from any number of Caribbean countries -- Jamaica, Barbados, Haiti -- and the U.S. Virgin Islands territory were being waved along the parade route or had been transformed into clothing.

It wasn't just the outfits and the infectious Caribbean beats that caught the senses Monday. The smokey aroma of grilled chicken wafted above vendors every 100 feet or so near the parade route, covering the area in a barbecue-scented haze.

Parade grand marshal Kenneth Mapp, the governor of the Virgin Islands, noted he was born in Brooklyn and New York City has the largest population of Virgin Islanders outside the Caribbean.

New York City's first lady Chirlane McCray, who has roots in Barbados, said, "Today is a day for celebration."

Caribbeans value education, she said. She and her husband, Mayor Bill de Blasio, urged attendees to sign up their 4-year-olds for the city's free universal pre-K program.

De Blasio said at a pre-parade breakfast that the city is better because of its "Caribbean-American flavor."

State Assemb. Michaëlle C. Solages (D-Elmont), a native of Haiti, also attended.

Donald Williams, 56, of Kingston, Jamaica, said he has traveled from the Caribbean to Brooklyn for at least the past decade to celebrate his culture during the parade. He plays trumpet in the 35-member Inner City Marching Band.

The group wore shirts in the green, black and yellow of Jamaica's flag. Its youngest member was a 9-year-old boy who plays the cymbals.

"It's a Caribbean thing. It's part of our culture," Williams said of the carnival tradition.

Asked how he felt to be marching among at least 1 million revelers, he said: "Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful."The skin-baring, brilliantly colored costumes in the parade often include tall feathered headdresses, sequined shorts and wings, or other accessories.

Shana Francis, 27, of the Bronx, and her friend, Laverne Shaw, 24, were riding to the parade aboard the No. 4 Train about 30 minutes before the start.

After dancing on the streets of Brooklyn into the early morning, Francis rushed back to her home in the Morrisania section to change into a purple and blue bikini with tall matching feathers."Yes, you can take our picture," Shaw said as they sat on the train with another friend, Jannel Daley, 27, of Baychester. They said this was their first time marching and dancing in the parade. Francis, who works as a social worker, said they didn't practice dancing: "It comes naturally!"The three got off at Franklin Avenue to meet their group as subway riders snapped photos.

With William Murphy

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