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London Carnival Tradition Promotes Unity

London's Notting Hill Carnival, one of Europe's largest, attracted large crowds despite security concerns. It was the first major public event in the city since the bombing attacks of July 7th and the attempted bombings a week later. VOA's Jeff Swicord produced our report. It's narrated by Carol Pearson.

For 41 years the Notting Hill Carnival has taken place during the last week of August. It was created by black immigrants from the Caribbean where the carnival tradition is very strong.

They dreamed of bringing together the immigrant community of Notting Hill, which in the 1950s was living under racism, poor working conditions, and substandard housing. They wanted to openly celebrate their heritage and share it with London's white community. Over the years the carnival has evolved to symbolize ethnic unity.

Lewis Benn is one of the carnival's organizers. "Well, it's a community-based event which has evolved whereby it's held within the community. We develop it as an art form,” he says. “We have five hard working artistic arenas that all work together to make the show what it is today. And what we want to do is to educate the youth and to bring them out and enjoy the vibrancy. Get into costume, get into all aspects of it, and have a great time."

This year the carnival has taken on new significance, following the bombings of July 7th. In the days after the bombings, police conducted several raids in this ethnically diverse neighborhood. And two suspects accused in the failed bombing attempts a week later were apprehended in a nearby apartment block.

Lewis Benn says the carnival is a good opportunity to release some of the ethnic tension surrounding the bombings and bring the community back together again.

"Well, everybody knows the unfortunate incidence that took place on the 7th of July. And this is our answer to say that we are not divided, we are all one. We come from all backgrounds as we are coming with our feet to show strength and unity at this great event."

In 1964, the first steel band played at the Notting Hill festival, and for the first time black and white people danced together freely in appreciation of music and togetherness.

Organizers hope this year's festival was equally therapeutic for the citizens of London, who for the past few months have been living in fear and suspicion of their neighbors. Londoners may have found the spirit of carnival as a way to come together, and dance in the streets again.