by ROCHELLE OLIVER
It wasn’t storming on the night a few dozen Caribbean Americans gathered at the small Caribbean Today newspaper office in South Miami. Nevertheless, a certain energy seemed to rumble and stir.
Intellectual electricity – tempered with anxious mouths – rounded a buffet of fruits and Jamaican delights. A server meandered through the area carrying fried chicken paired with a curry sauce for dipping.
For many attendees, the Sept. 25, launch of the Caribbean American Journalists and Media Association marked the beginning of a new day for Caribbean Americans in South Florida.
“What we’re trying to do, number one, is to legitimize what everyone is doing and to say we’re a viable group of people,” said Peter Webley, publisher of Caribbean Today. “Just like you have Jewish and Hispanics organizations, there’s a certain legitimacy with branding your own brand.”
Felicia Persaud, a New York resident who was the night’s guest speaker, said she also believes that having a Caribbean organization would not only provide a support system for the professional community, but also a power-in-numbers approach when trying to make strides on a national level.
Persaud has pushed hard for people from the Caribbean to be counted in the U.S. Census.
“At the end of the day, African-American issues are very different from Caribbean American issues,” she said.
She pointed to immigration as a main vein that separates the two cultures.
When a group is not counted, they are simply not heard, she said.
Shut out on more than one occasion is Maxine Tulloch, founder of the group, which is also known as CAJA.
Tulloch is also the executive producer and host of “The Maxine Tulloch Show,” a talk show that spotlights business owners and professionals. It airs on Comcast, and also is broadcast in Jamaica.
Tulloch recalled a situation to illustrate her point: When a law office chose not to provide her company with advertising dollars, she said, “They said to me, ‘You’re not our market.’ "
She is still appalled to this day.
“We’re not your market?’’ she said. “What do you mean we’re not your market?”
This isn’t the only time she felt that her Caribbean community had little to stand on, she said.
“When Caribbean media goes out, we don’t get any respect,” she said.
She founded CAJA to change this situation.
The group did not blame all the conflicts on others. Hopeful members were quick to point out their own missteps.
Author Ivett Jackson of Lake Worth was among those who criticized her own community.
“The majority are not readers or don’t support their own,” said Jackson, adding that she feels little support from the Caribbean-American and African-American communities.
She said that most people who buy her books are Caucasian.
When Webley began his speech, he quickly questioned the group.
“Why is it that we have dropped the ball?” he asked the crowd made up of supporters who traveled from as far as Orlando and Palm Beach County to be at the event.
Some people muttered in agreement, but there really wasn’t a clear answer.
“We only have ourselves to blame,” he said.
Also, CAJA is looking to fill membership positions, including a paid managing director position.