Those with island ties prepare to celebrate Trinidad and Tobago independence

At the stroke of midnight as Aug. 30 became Aug. 31, 1962, the flag of the United Kingdom was lowered in the Caribbean nation of The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and the newly independent nation replaced the Union Jack with its new flag.

The Aug. 31 Independence Day is celebrated each year with elaborate festivities not only in the southernmost nation in the Caribbean, but wherever those with roots in Trinidad and Tobago gather, including Georgia. Each year, the Decatur-based Trinidad and Tobago Association of Georgia holds a dinner/dance to commemorate the nation’s separation from the United Kingdom, under whose rule it had been since the early 19th century.

While Trinidad and Tobago Independence Day is typically celebrated with parades, bands and a general carnival atmosphere, Georgia’s celebration is a more formal black-tie affair with a dinner, a speaker, and scholarship presentations.

Julie Jones-Hewitt, vice president of the association, said the August event is a highlight of the year with between 150 and 200 tickets sold each year. A native of Trinidad and a founding member of Trinidad and Tobago Association, Jones-Hewitt said DeKalb County estimates that approximately 5,000 Trinbagonians call metro Atlanta home.

This year’s keynote speaker is Dr. Jann Joseph, president of Georgia Gwinnett College, who was born in Trinidad and named to her current post in 2019. The mistress of ceremonies will be Marissa Williams and entertainment will feature calypso artist Preacher. Jones-Hewitt said a “very special guest” at this year’s gala will be Jenelle (Penny) Commissiong, who in 1977 became the first Black Ms. Universe.
The Trinidad and Tobago Association is a community service organization that launched in 2003 and was granted nonprofit status in 2011. It is dedicated to “fostering, promoting and advancing the general well-being of persons in Georgia with origin, heritage, family ties, or a special interest in The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago,” according to Jones-Hewitt.

Its online mission statement says in part that the association strives “to establish and maintain a positive image of The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, its people, and its culture among the Georgia population in particular, the USA in general.”

The Independence Day celebration in Georgia honors the complex culture of Trinidad and Tobago, which reflects influences of the islands’ indigenous people as well as the Spanish who colonized the area before ceding it to Great Britian, other Europeans, and Africans brought to the area as slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries.

“Although we don’t strictly define the event as a fundraiser, we do charge for tickets and proceeds go toward our scholarship program,” Jones-Hewitt explained. “We award two scholarships to local young people who are either in college or graduating from high school and preparing for college. The recipient must either be from Trinidad and Tobago or have strong ties such as a parent or grandparent from there.” She added a scholarship also is given annually to a student still living in Trinidad and Tobago.

The scholarship program, which also is supported by other fundraisers during the year, ties to the association’s vision as stated on its website: “to inform and inspire dreams and aspirations through our community and culture.”

It also ties to the organization’s objective, which in part says it seeks “to ensure that the Trinidad and Tobago youth population in Georgia obtain the support necessary for them to excel in their personal development, educational and recreational pursuits.” The scholarship program is named for Melsher Snaggs, who while living in Georgia co-founded a youth steel band known as the Metrolanta Steel Orchestra.

Jones-Hewitt said scholarship applicants must write an essay on a topic assigned by the association and a panel of judges selects each year’s recipients.

The gala, Jones-Hewitt said, is held each year on either the third or fourth Saturday in August. This year’s Independence Day gala will be Saturday, Aug. 26, at Hi-Def Entertainment, 1303 Columbia Drive, Decatur. The event starts at 7 p.m. with a cocktail hour at 6 p.m. For more information, visit www.tntga.org.

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