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Norwich – The flag of the Dominican Republic fluttered in the wind near City Hall on Saturday as Norwich celebrated its diversity with a day full of multicultural events – from a flag-raising ceremony to a black-owned trade show .

The red, white and blue flag of the Dominican Republic was raised alongside the American flag to the beat of the Caribbean nation’s national anthem, sung loudly by a crowd of city residents with roots in the community. Dominican.

Joined by City Mayor Peter Nystrom and State Senator Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, Dominican business owners, community leaders, students and artisans in Norwich came together to celebrate their culture and community on the occasion of the 178th anniversary of the independence of the Dominican Republic. They danced in the square as musicians performed merengue tipico dominicano music and applauded a stream of speakers who conducted the bilingual ceremony in English and Spanish.

Community leaders recognized several Dominicans for their work developing their community, including Jeffrey and Kendy Zapata of JBS Barber Spa; Carlos Ventura of Ventura Hair Salon; and Maria Colon, a member of the Foundry 66 shared commercial space and coordinator of the city’s Dominican festival.

Ramon Almonte Bonilla, from Puerto Plata, a city in the Dominican Republic, and his daughter Niurka Almonte were among those recognized.

Ramon Almonte moved to Norwich in 2000 with four daughters: one who is now a lawyer, a doctor, a student at the University of Connecticut and a senior at Norwich Free Academy.

“Norwich are the best of the best,” he said, praising his city for giving him and his family the opportunity “to do it all”.

He said seeing the Dominican community gathered downtown was “incredible” and made him even more proud of his city.

“It feels good to be here, it shows that the Dominican community comes together and unites,” said its youngest, Arlette Amonte Rivera, 17.

William D. Abreu of Norwich spoke at the ceremony and said he was proud to see such a large turnout. The graphic designer, web designer, home improvement contractor and former restaurateur attended the event with his three young daughters. He spearheaded local efforts to connect the Dominican community in his city.

“Dominicans love to work and always work to help people. Having us all together in a beautiful city like this is a great idea for everyone,” said Abreu, who came here from Jarabacoa, La Vega, Dominican Republic, in 2006. “We want to bring these people together to make part of a community so that we can help others. We are all here, we just need to be connected. That is why we are here today.

Lucas Pimentel, CEO of Danbury-based LEAD, Latinos for Education Advocacy and Diversity, said he helped start conversations about building the Latinx community in Norwich and New London and received support crushing. During the ceremony, he commended the city for proudly celebrating the Dominican community.

“Today is the first time the Dominican flag has been flown in Norwich and it’s an amazing day,” he said. “Dominicans are hard workers and we like to enjoy life. There are no happier people than Dominicans and even in our darkest times we still dance,” he said as a catchy Dominican song sounded in the background.

“We want to become a fabric of the Norwich community,” he said, adding that he knows Dominican residents of Norwich will help make it an even more prosperous, inclusive and prosperous place.

The flag-raising ceremony followed a 9 a.m. breakfast to celebrate the Dominican Day and was followed by an evening of celebration, both at the Latin Quarter, a nightclub in the city.

Meanwhile, other places in town bustled as black business owners promoted their products and passions. Pop-up stores showcased streetwear on Main Street while Foundry 66 on Franklin Street transformed into a fashion show, portrait studio and mall.

The city’s first Black History Month Business and Vendor Show, hosted by Black small business owner Tiara Waters, featured more than 30 vendors promoting goods and services ranging from fashion in photography.

“We probably have everything you can imagine here, from mental health care and doulas to designers,” Waters said.

Waters, owner of Flowing Waters Massage, said she developed the idea for the fair when she noticed a lack of Black History Month events celebrating black business owners in the city.

“Once upon a time Norwich was booming with small business and we need to bring that back,” said Waters, who was born and raised in Norwich and now lives in New London.

“Being a black business owner and mother myself, I feel like growing up, I haven’t seen a lot of people like me in certain aspects, like business ownership. I thought I had to go to college and that was the only option,” she said. “I ended up going to massage school, and I want people to see that he there are different things they can do to grow and aspire to what they want. to be.”

As they prepared for the event, Waters said she saw her 3-year-old daughter Ayanna pose after pose for photographer Xynaihah Caldwell, mimicking what she had seen models do. The photographer and models encouraged her to show off her new poses.

“That’s the whole point of it all,” Waters said.

Caldwell, 20, who operated a pop-up portrait studio at the vendor show for her photography company XyVibeVisualz, said the event was outside her comfort zone but a great way to connect with other owners of local businesses.

“It’s just beautiful – it’s so great that we can come together and meet and see all the different brands that people have created,” she said.

Interspersed with musical performances and games, the free event gave black and brown business owners a space to showcase their businesses, organizations and talents: from Lovely Luxury Extensions hair services to food from Uncle’s Blazin’ BBQ. D and fashionable clothing brands based in Norwich. Other Worldly and One Power Kingdom.

The event, the first of its kind, gave people the opportunity to network with other business owners and meet new clients, Waters said.

A young entrepreneur has created a space to promote her new business, GlossyJco, selling lip glosses, lip scrubs and bracelets. Juvie Ventura, 15, who moved to Norwich from the Bronx in 2020, started making bracelets to occupy her while she recovered from back surgery in 2020. Soon she expanded to manufacturing beauty products and decided to start a business.

Brianna Chambers, 34, promoted her online store, called Crown Your Culture Love Your Roots, and showcased some of her products. It offers custom apparel, sneakers, and a new line of Caribbean Island Pride swimwear. Her blog, which shares a name with her clothing brand, focuses on sharing tips on everything from fundraising to fashion to building black and brown community, she said.

“The goal is to merge both fashion and culture, to raise awareness of black entrepreneurship, and to just bridge the gap,” she said.

The exhibition and vendor fair ran until around 5 p.m., ending with a fashion show showcasing the styles of local designers.

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