Essence Parker

Essence and friends at Carnival
Ms. Essence Parker
2017
Major(s): 
Economics
Government
Hometown: 
New Hartford, NY, USA

Thanks to Paul Gilbert and Mrs. Patricia Romeo-Gilbert I was awarded a travel enrichment grant in my junior year to pursue my interests in Trinidad and Tobago. I was interested in how Afro-Trinidadians formed and shaped their identity in the wake of the slave trade. I looked primarily at music and theatre and what I found was that those mediums were the primary way Afro-Trinidadians exercised and performed their identity and culture.

Within the second week of the Trinidad program we traveled to Tobago. It was there that I began my investigation into the formation of identity.  I explored the night life and Tobago and came across a local restaurant and bar. When I walked in I quickly realized that this was a place people went to dance. I quickly learned that dancing was huge part of Trinbagonian culture.  Once I realized how important dance was to Trinbagonian culture I tailored by mediums of exploration to include music and dance instead on music and theatre.

Saturday evenings I traveled to San Juan, Trinidad which is approximately 25 minutes away from where I stayed to participate in Wasafoli dance rehearsal at Pamberi. Wasfoli is a dance company which specializes in West African dance. I was able to get lessons not only in dance but in traditional songs from Wes Africa. I am so grateful for my travel award because if I had not receive it I would not have been able to afford the lessons I received. Wasafoli was more than a dance company it was a family. I have made great lifelong friends from attending these dance sessions. In fact one of my good friends who I met through Wasafoli informed me of a spoken word competition put on by the 2 cents movement.

At the competition I was really able to see the cross section between art and identity as many poets showed the most vulnerable parts of themselves and of Trinidadian culture. A poem that really inspired me was about the formation of poetic justice league in which poets would come together and express themselves. I found this poem to be touching because it emphasized the importance of a shared identity.

The culmination of my experience happen back in Tobago. I traveled to Tobago to attend the Jazz Festival where I got to watch performances by both local artists and big time artists such as J Cole and Lauryn Hill. I have been a huge fan of both these artist thus the opportunity to see them live really captivated me. I spent two days in Tobago for the festival and I really enjoyed it because it felt like my journey had come full circle. My experiences contributed to my personal growth as well as motivated me to pursue academic research focusing on saving the arts and arts programs in higher education and communities of color.      

 

Photos: 
J Cole at Tobago's Jazz Festival
Study Abroad: 
Trinidad
2016
Donor: 
Paul Gilbert and Mrs. Patricia Romeo-Gilbert