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Carnival connects cultures

Tony Burke was looking for a way to bring the Caribbean and African-American communities together.

Burke, who was born in Jamaica, came to the United States in 1969 to pursue a degree. He settled in the Capital District after graduating from Brooklyn College, and found himself wanting to connect with other people who shared his culture.

He and some Caribbean buddies got together and formed a loosely knit group, but they didn't have a lot of success getting other people to join. So, for a while, Burke stepped back, but he was always thinking of how he could create some unity.

Then, on a trip to Canada, it hit him.

I know what would bring people together: a carnival, he said.

Burke knew that Caribbean carnivals were big draws " that was actually the reason behind his trip to Canada. So when he got back to the U.S., he started planning his own carnival in earnest, even if he faced some skepticism.

"One of my friends said, 'You've got to be kidding. That's a lot of work,'" Burke said.

But that didn't deter Burke. He held the first carnival in 1999, and it's turned into an annual event. This year, the carnival, called Carama, is Saturday, Aug. 8, at Central Park in Schenectady.

Burke's friend was right " putting together a carnival was hard work. The biggest obstacle was getting the money for the festival. Burke's group, the Capital District Caribbean Cultural Alliance, Inc. wasn't a registered nonprofit, which meant it wasn't eligible for a lot of grants, and some people balked at making donations.

"We would get a hundred dollars here and there," he said. "But a lot of times I would take money from my own pocket. You really have to want to do something in the community to do what I'm doing."

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