RAGGA NYC and Jamsterdam will join forces to bring together NY and Jamaican talent for the launch of a travel project called “CONNEK”. CONNEK Kingston will link queer, artistic and liberal folk in Jamaica to their allies across country borders through group trips and online storytelling.

Against all odds and trivial media Kingston, Jamaica has celebrated their 4th Pride. At this pivotal time in queer liberation, our mission is to help develop the often-short sighted perception of queerness in the Caribbean. There is no time like the present to bridge the gap of connection and aid this country’s already courageous movement towards the future. The time for demystification and bridge building is now!

How did this project come to be?
In 2014, I (Neon Christina) booked a trip to Jamaica for a overdue visit. Close friends and family alike discouraged me from going. They all said I was essentially risking my life. My peers having this fear didn’t surprise me but my mother's fear actually did which lead me into a rabbit hole of research around Jamaica and travel. I've heard rumors about Jamaica and its homophobic attitude in my online research were there was an overwhelming amount of negative news about the country's queer folk which was alarming. Every headline I read posed as a warning and every documentary I watched was a sad story. I dreadfully cancelled my trip.

Fast forward to 2017, I finally gained the courage to re-plan my trip to Jamaica. A friend of mine named Tsige who had recently visited connected me to a queer friend of hers living in Kingston named Chaday who would guide me once I arrived. With the possibility of meeting and hanging with queer people actually living and loving out loud in Jamaica, I booked my ticket immediately and went to my parent’s homeland. I was eager to prove a point to the people in my life and even myself that the queer experience and country at large is more than the negative articles we read online. Also I hadn't been to Jamaica since I was a child so reconnecting with the land as an adult was a big deal for me. On the trip I not only meet Chaday, but I went hiking, attended street parties, heard local Reggae bands, had amazing Jamaican meals that I never experienced as a Jamaica American and overall found myself. It was life changing to be in a black country as a queer adult defying all the scary stories I’d heard.  

When I came back to NY I did a lot of thinking about how afraid I was on the plane to Jamaica. How afraid I was thinking about my own people and homeland reading articles about the “rampant homophobia” from my laptop here in Brooklyn. I did a lot of thinking about the way fear of black countries vibrates outward from media and effects all people. Ironically enough in Jamaica I saw so many white tourists. So many single white women walking around by themselves in the “allegedly dangerous” city of Kingston and in the dark countryside dirt roads of Port Antonio, Jamaica. I thought about how this daunting media hits people of color and more so the queer community of color the hardest. The fear of violence keeps a lot of people away from black countries throughout the world and in this case, Jamaica. So how could I change that? How could I share my own experience of Jamaica with my fellow sistern? 

What better way to change someone’s mind about a people and place then to go there and talk with people? The power of travel is real. Unfortunately, there have always been roadblocks for the traveler of color. We have seen this even here in the U.S. with the need for publications like the “Green Book”. The “Green Book” was a travel guide that listed businesses and private homes that would reliably serve black people during the era of Jim Crow law keeping motorist safe from dangers like sundown towns. On the flip side the gay & queer travel industry has often stayed clear of black countries at large and often only targeted to gay men. The endless amounts of Sizzle Miami ads with shirtless black gay men and white gay couples I had seen in ads for Paris had painted a very specific idea about who I was when moving throughout the world and where I could go. This specific cross section of queerness and race in relation to travel is unseen in the strides many travel companies trying to tackle the lack of diversity in their messaging and programing. This is where CONNEK will fill the void starting in Jamaica and with possibility of growing globally.

After talking over the seed idea of throwing a party with Chaday in Jamaica, she began to tell me just how important it was in turn for Jamaican queers and liberals to meet people from all over the world. To not just meet but to really connect and break bread with them. The beauty and possibility to hear what it’s like to be a trans entrepreneur living in Brooklyn or a visual artist with Puerto Rican parents living in Philly sending money back to Puerto Rico would be beautiful for all parties. Chaday and I talked about the need to see and hear the voices of queer Jamaicans living outside the dark narrative painted by most Western media. We wanted to not just bring folk to Jamaica to celebrate kinship but also shine a light on who these brilliant queer Jamaicans living in Kingston who were leading the change. This is the specific blend of programming that makes CONNEK different from any other travel project.

In keeping with RAGGA NYC’s mission to document and create representation for the queer Caribbean community, CONNEK will release a campaign of videos and more telling the stories of a select group of influential queer Jamaicans changing the narrative. Highlights of people like Neish McLean. Neish McLean is the HIV Coordinator and Project Manager at Equality for All Foundation Jamaica and Co-Founder of TransWave Jamaica, an organization that promotes transgender health and well-being.

All this leading up to a group trip where all folk outside Jamaica can register to sign up for the trip. The CONNEK team will then select a small group of people to join the weekend trip and coordinate with them so the group is all together on the voyage. From a party held at a Kingston venue run by a queer Jamaican, beach days, family dinners to even hiking trips in Jamaica’s Blue Mountain- CONNEK will be the perfect getaway for folks who join us on the trip.

During and after the trip in Jamaica, CONNEK will release a video series going over the trip and its impact of attendees after the trip ends. The CONNEK team will then hold a RAGGA x Jamsterdam family link up party here in NYC where the Jamaican talent who was involved in the trip then comes to NYC. CONNEK supporters of the project will also get gifts from the CONNEK team like a CONNEK zine with contributions from all the folk involved in Jamsterdam and RAGGA NYC.

To hear more about the project development, ideas for the trip, plans for the future and the story of how Chaday (Jamsterdam) and Chris (RAGGA NYC) meet listen to the RAGGA special interview with Christina and Chaday here!


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Neon Christina

Born in Long Island, NY Christopher Udemezue has shown at a variety of galleries and museums, including the New Museum, Queens Museum of Art, PS1 MoMa, Bruce High Quality Foundation, and Envoy Enterprises. Udemezue recently has utilized his Jamaican heritage and the complexities of desire for connection, tragedy through personal mythology and public lynching as a primary source. As the founder of the platform RAGGA NYC, he completed a residency with the New Museum "All The Threatened And Delicious Things Joining One Another" this past June 2017.

RAGGA NYC is a party and platform run by artist Neon Christina that has received press from the New Yorker magazine to Art Net.com. Working with the likes of PAPI JUICE, Juliana Huxtable, YES YES YALL (Toronto) and The New Museum; RAGGA has stormed NYC nightlife with a much needed queer Caribbean flavor.

IG: @neonchristina

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Chaday Emmanuel

Born and living in Kingston Jamaica, founder of Jamsterdam, Tribe876 and Tribe Tours. Chaday has had over ten different events under three major brands including 2 queer events in Jamaica. A young entrepreneur majoring in Digital Media Production, she has designed both websites and apps for a lot of big Jamaican companies. At the beginning of 2018 opened Tribe876 as a bar/ lounge for artists, liberals, queers and persons with open minds in Kingston, Jamaica. Always striving to provide persons with amazing spaces and opportunities to make memories and ties that last a lifetime.

Jamsterdam is a party run by creative director Chaday Emmanuel that has pulled in over 600+ people and worked with some of the best of Kingston Jamaica’s queer talent scene. Working with the likes of DJ Chemics, Dj ZJ Nova, DJ David, and DJ The Wixard Muzikal Savage and JFLAG. Jamsterdam has had events to date both tailored to the lgbt community and community at large. Jamsterdam always highlighting love and tolerance no matter what the event has continued to have successful, safe events working with local venues to build ties through out the community.

IG: @1emmanuel

What better way to demystify and build kinship with a land/ people then to travel to them, celebrate and CONNEK?