Bahamas National Junkanoo Committee members and Ministry of Youth, Sport & Culture representatives, stand with DCL Regional Public Affairs Director, Joey Gaskins (center), along with local Eleuthera officials.
Bahamas National Junkanoo Committee members and Ministry of Youth, Sport & Culture representatives, stand with DCL Regional Public Affairs Director, Joey Gaskins (center), along with local Eleuthera officials.

Joey Gaskins, Regional Public Affairs Director with Disney Cruise Line (DCL), on Friday, November 17th, 2023, during a press conference held at the Eleuthera Chamber of Commerce’s Business Innovation Hub, in Rock Sound, presented a cash donation of $75,000 to officials from the National Junkanoo Committee (NJC), and the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, specifically to assist with funding for the upcoming Eleuthera Junior Junkanoo parade, slated to take place on March 2nd of 2024.

Commenting on the sizeable donation, Mr Gaskins, said, “This year as a symbol of our continued investment in junior junkanoo, we have enhanced our support by $25,000, a 50% increase. We are increasing our support to $75,000 this year, and that is in combination with the supplies, costumes and other materials that we sent to the schools to enhance their costumes and help them in the parades… And we are so proud of that.”

Shedding light on the decision to up this year’s funding, Director Gaskins shared, “The increase in support comes from a place of us really wanting to invest more into junior junkanoo here. We have heard the cry of some of the school administrators and teachers, who said that they could use more resources. We were able to make the internal argument for it, and Disney will hopefully meet the needs of these schools where they are… The funding goes to schools being able to buy equipment, instruments, costuming – to prepare themselves for the parade, as well as sponsorship for the winning teams to go to Nassau [to represent the island]… That was actually our first way of engaging with junior junkanoo several years ago – sponsoring the winning school to go to Nassau… So, this is our way of meeting the needs of the schools.”

Speaking further about the inspiration behind the funding support, he added, “…Culture for us is very important. At Disney, we are storytellers, and culture tells a story of a place and a people… junkanoo is our primary cultural expression. It is recognizable globally, and it is something that we are very excited about… In order for us to carry on the cultural work that defines who we are as Bahamians, it is important for young people to have access, to be supported in, and to be guided by that culture… And that is why our support for junior junkanoo is so important… We believe that the future of storytelling lies within each young person.”

Beyond cash funding, support from DCL also included mentoring, explained Director Gaskins, saying, “Last year, instead of just writing a $50,000 check, we did something else – we also connected young people with our Disney live entertainment team – and these young people on Eleuthera were able to teach the Disney team about the traditions of junkanoo, and at the same time, our live entertainment mentors who were costumers, makeup artists, hair dressers and the like, were able to mentor young people in their schools as a part of this program… It was not Disney coming in to say, let me tell you how to do junkanoo, it was an exchange between the young people who participated, and the teachers who help them – and the Disney live entertainment folks who do the work that we do.”

He continued, “More importantly, it exposed young people to the opportunities that creativity can create. Oftentimes we look at our cultural expression in The Bahamas as a hobby, something you do after work – something that is not a career you can pursue. But, if there is any example of how creativity can create opportunity – it is at Disney. So, it is key for us to connect that with the people who take the very same talents they use to do junkanoo and create the characters, the stories, the movies that we all love to watch, and the parks that we love to visit.”

When asked about the amount DCL is involved in the thematic aspects of the presentations put on by the schools, Mr. Gaskins explained, “We don’t get involved in the theming. We are appreciative when schools feel that we can inspire their performance in the parade. For us though, our involvement extends to us bringing in our Disney live entertainment team – and partnering with the schools in mentoring these young Bahamian creatives, by those who have made a career out of being creative.

“We continue to deepen this relationship with the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, and the National Junkanoo Committee, beyond junkanoo. As we design our entertainment offerings at Lighthouse Point, and we continue to figure out exactly what we are going to do there – we have always said that the site itself, the design of it, and the offerings on that site will be rooted in the history and culture inherent to The Bahamas.

“So, we have been very proud to collaborate very closely with the NJC and the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, as advisors as we continue to build out that program. We are so looking forward, and are very excited to bring those options to the local community, because we believe that there are going to be some interesting opportunities for the creative community here in Eleuthera to take advantage of in the very near future.

“We will also be looking at ways to support senior junkanoo here on the island – to continue that tradition, to strengthen the work that you do here, and to support the offerings that we have at Lighthouse Point as well.

Kishlane Smith, Deputy Co-Chair with the National Junkanoo Committee, responding to Disney’s announcement of increased support for junior junkanoo in Eleuthera, said, “Junkanoo is very important. For far too long, junkanoo historically [national support for – and the proceeds from any corporate sponsorship], was only centered around New Providence. We are changing that whole mindset. And we are changing the corporate derivatives to ensure that all of the Islands of The Bahamas are somewhat showcased – and that all the islands recognize that we see them, and we will assist them however possible. So, we are extemely appreciative to Disney for this venture,… as their efforts solidify our particular goal of making sure funding takes place not only on New Providence, but throughout the Family Islands.”

Ms. Smith expressed her excitement that Director Gaskins had voiced the intention that there would also be some level of funding for senior junkanoo in Eleuthera in 2024.  She also revealed the adoption of a more efficient tabulation system of scoring, which had been introduced to junior junkanoo parades in New Providence several years ago. She confirmed that this system would be used in the upcoming junior junkanoo parade event in Eleuthera, to allow for the announcement of parade winners within a short time, following the parade, on the same evening.

“So far, I am hearing that all of the schools in the various settlements and districts have committed to participating in the junior junkanoo parade, so that is a wonderful effort. We were here earlier this year for the 2023 junior junkanoo parade, and some of the schools did not participate because of the lack of funding, so that was an impetus behind our drive,” said the NJC Co-Chair.

Mr. Ellory Deveaux, Senior Cultural Administrative Coordinator at the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, brought brief remarks on behalf of the Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, Mario Bowleg, saying, “I would like to thank Disney Cruise Line for their donation and sponsorship towards junkanoo on Eleuthera. It is important to encourage the private sector to help develop junkanoo which is part of the orange economy. This year marks 35 of junior junkanoo. It is the embryo for senior junkanoo, and it is vital for its future. Junkanoo encompasses arts and crafts, music, dance, choreography – and this is an important investment in our kids. So, once again we would like to say thank you to Disney Cruise Line for making such a remarkable donation. We also thank the NJC for bringing this negotiation deal to completion, as we move forward in bringing junkanoo to the world.”

The famed leaders of the two largest rival senior junkanoo groups out of New Providence and legendary junkanooers, Mr. Eddison Dames [Senior Consultant with the NJC and leader of ‘The Valley Boys’], and Mr. Percy Vola Francis [Cultural Consultant with the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture and leader of the ‘Shell Saxons Superstars’], were both part of the delegation of junkanoo officials in Eleuthera for the donation presentation.

Mr. Francis, dubbed as the ‘Father of junior junkanoo’, recalled his visit to the island of Trinidad in 1987, where he relayed seeing a man in a school yard. Asking him what he was doing, the man shared that he was getting ready for what they called ‘kiddies carnival’. He invited Mr. Francis to see it two days later. The experience of the large downtown parade, which Mr. Francis said he recalled sixty-four (64) schools taking part in – and all the schools, teachers, children and parents coming out in support, was an inspiration he said – which made him think that an event of that type would also be good for The Bahamas. “That is when we began our Junior Junkanoo program. Thirty-five years ago when I planted that seed with the National Junkanoo Committee, and the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture to make this all possible. So, today we can boast that we have a ‘farm’ system whereby our children can be developed in a way like none other. Not just through junkanoo, but also in so many other ways… Junior junkanoo is the futuristic lifeblood of our development as a country and a nation… We want to thank Disney for this massive contribution.”

Mr. Eddison Dames, also remarking on the journey of junior junkanoo, and Eleuthera’s strong part in its history, shared, “Percy and I have been working feverishly together, since the inception of this program to make sure that wherever junior junkanoo or senior parades are, we had a presence in helping to develop it. When we started out these parades, it was difficult in many of the Family Islands to get those seeds watered and the harvest to the point where it is today. However, junior junkanoo has always been very much alive here in Eleuthera. I must say Eleuthera has always represented the island in a fantastic way. I say that because Eleuthera has proven itself, from here in Tarpum Bay, and over in Spanish Wells, we also saw North Eleuthera High coming into New Providence and beating up the schools in New Providence. So, we are pleased to see this reignited, especially after the pandemic. We would now like to see again the winners of parades in the Family Islands coming into New Providence to participate in the Junior Junkanoo parade there. Hopefully, next year we will be able to take some of the winners from Eleuthera into New Providence to come and defend some of their titles which they hold.”