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FROM THE ISLANDS, 'THERE IS A ONENESS'

People can boast of being from the South, the Midwest or the West Coast, but it can't compare to those who proclaim they're from "the islands."

Mention the phrase, and immediately you hear the sound of waves caressing the shore, and the airy sound of steel drums. A tropical breeze blows through your hair and visions of seasoned seafood and spicy meats tease your stomach.

Yet we visitors who experience such a sensory overload realize we can't fully embrace the grand culture. Only the natives truly share what it means to be from "the islands," and they love sharing that pride with each other.

Ocean, dialects, and, in some instances, political differences separate Caribbean nations. But an inherent unity links them, whether they are in Trinidad, Jamaica or Tampa Bay.

"We do have more in common than there are differences," said Ron Bobb Semple, president of Tampa Bay's Caribbean Cultural Association. "There is a kinship. Look at some of the mottoes across the Caribbean. In Jamaica: Out of one, many. In Guyana: One people, one nation, one destiny. So there is a oneness."

For 16 years, the cultural association has provided a platform for Tampa Bay's Caribbean people.

Judging from a list of upcoming events, they frequently have a good time in the process.

Saturday, a variety show celebrating Jamaica's independence will be held at the University of South Florida's College of Visual & Performing Arts TAT theater. "Culturama" promises traditional Jamaican folk dances, drama, oratory and musical performances.

The association holds a family fun day Aug. 25 at Rowlett Park, and it expects to draw nearly 500 people to the Nov. 3 gala at the USF Embassy Suites.

Yet the group's goals go beyond festive activities. It raises funds for health supplies in the Caribbean, provides back-to-school supplies for children in this community, offers an ongoing math and SAT tutorial program and strives to infuse youth with the native cultural values.

"When you have offspring that are born outside of the Caribbean, it's imperative that we educate them on the nature of the Caribbean, the culture of the Caribbean," Semple said. "You have to be proud of your culture. You have to do it consistently and you have to do it in different forms whether its in a theatrical presentation, a lecture or having a food fair."

Semple puts his words into theatrical action on Aug. 17 with a one-man presentation about Marcus Garvey, the early 20th century Jamaican native and father of black nationalism.

Underneath all the activities remains that bond, sealed by pride and fostered by common perspectives.

"I think our value system is pretty much the same in every island," association member Delores Johnson said. "Once you say the islands, everyone wants to know which island."

Johnson said while once working as a nursing supervisor in Saudi Arabia, a fellow islander needed only to look at her to know there was a connection. He asked, "From where you are?" and she knew she had a found a kindred spirit.

I'm glad those connections continue today.

That's all I'm saying.

For more information about the Caribbean Cultural Association, go to www.cca91.com.

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