Community activists honored at Fish Parade

Alicia Clarke

The 12th annual Fish Parade made its way to Barretto Point Park on June 20.

Environmentalist Morgan Powell remembered at waterfront celebration

All along the route from Hunts Point Riverside to Barretto Point Park, overcast skies threatened before the rain began to fall. But undaunted participants in the 12th annual Fish Parade on June 20 kept marching and celebrating long after the first drops had fallen.

The festivities began at Riverside Park along the banks of the Bronx River, with an award ceremony for seven Bronx-based activists who were chosen to act as the parade’s grand marshals, in honor of their commitment to social justice issues. As it does every year, the procession then made its way toward Barretto Point Park along the East River.

Seyi Adebanjo, a community organizer who in recent years has helped lead several grassroots initiatives for people of color and the LGBTQ community, was one of the awardees. Events like the Fish Parade can help change residents’ perspectives about the community they live in, said Adebanjo, who identifies as “gender non-conforming.”

“It’s not about what’s wrong with it, but getting people to uplift and change the community,” said Adebanjo.

The theme of this year’s parade, Honoring Tomorrow’s Legacy Today, was inspired by the memory of Morgan Powell, the Bronx historian and self-taught environmentalist who was found dead in Brooklyn last October. The cause of Powell’s death remains a mystery.

“We would have honored Morgan if he were still alive,” said Danny Peralta, one of the parade’s lead organizers. Peralta, the director of Arts and Education at The Point, said Powell’s death led the organizers to consider the importance of honoring community activists while they’re still alive. Along with Powell and Adebanjo, the honored activists included Dr. Hetty Fox; Latin musician Ray Santos; Youth Ministries for Peach and Justice alum-turned-executive director, David Shuffler; chef Baron Ambrosia; and the director of nonprofit group Mothers on the Move, Wanda Salaman.

Over the last six months, more than 20 community organizations helped plan the parade and the summer festival at Barretto Point Park, which featured art and free food. Women of all ages in dresses and tiaras vied for the parade’s best-dressed award while belly dancers and partiers in traditional garb showed their stuff.  A red trolley headed the parade from Riverside to Barretto, where festivities continued into the late afternoon despite the brief but heavy rainfall.

Children stayed busy thanks to a kite making group, and arts groups informed the public about their work in and around Hunts Point.

Long time Hunts Point resident and community organizer Carl Van Putten, who came to the event with his grandson, recalled his excitement 12 years ago while attending the very first Fish Parade.

“To see it actually materialize, to get off the written page and become something you could touch, it was a great thing,” said Van Putten, who over the years has worked with community groups like Sustainable South Bronx.

Alicia Clarke

Jugglers from The Point helped lead the parade.

The efforts of local residents and activists have led to important victories for the neighborhood, Van Putten said, including the shutting down of the New York Organic Fertilizer Company (NYOFCo) four years ago. The company’s process of converting sewage into fertilizer to be sent to citrus operations across the country, created foul odors that sickened residents, who teamed with activists to pressure the state to cut off its funding.

“This got them all together. By merging the diversity of the people of the neighborhood and getting them all to stand together, we were able to do this,” Van Putten said.

One of the parade’s organizers emphasized the importance of taking a stand for one’s neighborhood.

“This year’s theme is about honoring and protecting our community,” said Mariposa Fernandez, who coordinated the activities at Barretto. “We can’t wait until tomorrow. Tomorrow is today.”

On the stage overlooking the East River, young girls from the Tanima Productions dance troupe performed Latin dance routines, the Bronx Charter School of the Arts put on a production of Annie and DJ Jazzy Jay spun his music as the rain intensified, forcing people to find cover beneath the trees.

Above all, said Van Putten, the annual event is a great way for the neighborhood’s young people to participate in an outdoor party full of good vibes.

“Where else would my grandson be able to run around until he passed out,” he said.

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