Norwich celebrates diversity with music, dance, food and awards
Norwich — Traditional Mohegan tribal dancing, followed by African pop music, Klezmer, Peruvian and then Chinese dancers performed at Howard T. Brown Memorial Park Monday while the audience sampled foods and desserts from cultures around the world and closer to home.
Add the perfect mid-September weather and the Norwich Rotary Clubs was able to declare success at their annual Celebrate Diversity Event at Norwich Harbor.
“It’s grandma Jesse’s recipe,” Angelina Gardner at the Uncle D’s Blazin’ BBQ station said to customers coming for a sample of pulled pork and macaroni and cheese. “From Birmingham, Alabama!”
Customer Veronica Shelby of Taftville said she knew it was authentic.
“I’m from Alabama. I can tell,” she said.
Shelby comes to the Celebrate Diversity event every year, but usually as a food booth attendant for the Tabernacle of Delivery and Praise Church, handing out sweet potato cookies, bread pudding and other desserts.
“This is the first year I’ve been able to get out and enjoy it,” she said.
She took full advantage with the Punjabi rice, a chicken quesadilla – she recommended that to anyone who asked – a pomegranate lemonade and a piece of sweet potato cornbread.
Next door, the Royal Punjabi Restaurant offered vegetable biryani, a mixture of rice, chickpeas, carrots and other vegetables in a light curry sauce.
Bassem Salahi, owner of Lazizah’s Bakery in Yantic, offered Lebanese or Turkish baklava, and when those ran out, he had “coco choclava,” in reserve. Salahi reserved half his table for photos of Lebanese architectural gems and books on Arab science, language and the Arabian Almanac.
Salahi said he loves the Rotary event, saying it symbolizes what’s best about America. He called the United States “the greatest country in the world,” because people can come from all over, work hard and make a living here.
“People can come from all sorts of life, all sorts of countries and help build this country,” Salahi said. “The glue of this country is the Constitution. It’s the glue that holds it together. We have to protect the Constitution.”
Participants sat at tables covered with white cloth tablecloths and adorned with globes and flower arrangements to eat their dinners — except when they were compelled to put down their forks and clap along with a lively traditional Jewish wedding song by the Klezmer band Klezmenschen.
The annual event highlights Norwich’s diverse ethnic population and its many restaurants that reflect those cultures. About a dozen local restaurants, food trucks, churches and cultural organizations participated, offering food and drinks and another dozen or so musical performance groups participated.
The Rotary Clubs called for a brief break in the entertainment between a troupe of Chinese folk dancers and the Blue Grass band Hot Flashes to present the annual diversity awards.
Zechariah Stover of Norwich, president of the Rotary Community Corps, was honored with the Lottie B. Scott Award as a “vital volunteer” for the Celebrate Diversity event and for helping to run numerous other events, including the Spirit of Greeneville Day, the Ellis Walter Ruley Project Committee, Sankofa Education and Leadership Inc., Norwich Juneteenth Day, the Empty Bowl Project, Norwich Polish Festival, Bully Busters, the Rose Arts Festival, Norwich History Day and others.
“He just continues to amaze me,” Mayor Peter Nystrom said, adding a city proclamation to the award trophy.
Stover looked out from the stage and said he recognized many people in the community who in turn have helped him along the way. He thanked his family for putting up with his volunteer efforts.
The Otis Library, which in 2016 received the National Medal for Museum and Library Services in a White House ceremony, was selected as the 2019 Norwich Rotary Community Diversity Award, which recognizes an organization that has enhanced the city’s cultural diversity. The library offers numerous programs for the city’s large immigrant population, with materials printed in several languages.
“This is for all of us,” Otis Library multicultural services coordinator Bassem Gayed said. “We are so grateful. We hope you always find Otis Library a welcoming place in the city of Norwich.”
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