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Enhancing Veteran Support: Highlights from the V.I. Veterans Advisory Council Meeting

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The Veterans Advisory Council of the Virgin Islands convened this Wednesday for its quarterly assembly, focusing on enhancing benefits, services, and the overall welfare of veterans. Chairperson Muria Nisbett led the discussion, unveiling several initiatives spearheaded by the Office of Veterans Affairs aimed at improving the lives of veterans in the territory.

A notable initiative is the introduction of a veteran discount program. This scheme enables veterans to avail discounts at participating local businesses simply by presenting a Virgin Islands driver’s license or ID card marked with a veteran designation. The council emphasized the importance of ensuring veterans are aware of how to obtain this enhanced ID, signaling a move towards greater recognition and appreciation of their service.

Addressing the critical issue of transportation for medical appointments, the council heard from veteran R. Phipps about the logistical challenges faced when traveling off-island, particularly from St. Croix to Puerto Rico. Phipps highlighted the stress of arranging last-minute travel and the difficulty of scheduling flights that align with appointment times. In response, Nisbett committed to collaborating with the Veterans Affairs Office to explore solutions, including the possibility of utilizing charter flights to better accommodate veterans’ travel needs.

The council also spotlighted upcoming events and resources aimed at supporting veterans. The imminent inauguration of a new Veterans Center in St. Thomas and the annual observance of Vietnam Veterans Day in March stand out as key moments to honor and engage with the veteran community. Additionally, Nisbett shared insights into the Wounded Warrior Project’s intensive outpatient treatment program for veterans struggling with PTSD, underscoring the council’s commitment to connecting veterans with vital mental health resources.

Vice-chair Kai Callwood dedicated a moment to honor the advocacy efforts of a late veteran who championed the creation of a veterans’ museum—a project that aims to preserve and celebrate the legacy of veterans in the Virgin Islands. Callwood pledged to pursue the realization of this museum, seeing it as a crucial step in honoring the service and sacrifices of veterans for generations to come.

The council is also seeking volunteers for a new initiative designed to support isolated, elderly veterans through regular visits, highlighting the community’s role in uplifting those who have served.

The next meeting, scheduled for May 15th, promises to further the council’s mission of addressing the needs and honoring the contributions of the Virgin Islands’ veteran community. This recent assembly marks a significant stride towards enhancing the support and recognition of veterans, ensuring their valor and sacrifices are acknowledged and celebrated.

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USVI Community Pulse

BLACKFULLNESS: Emancipation 2024 Art Exhibition Opens at Fort Frederik Museum

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The highly anticipated third annual Emancipation Art Exhibition is scheduled to open this Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Fort Frederik Museum. This year’s theme, BLACKFULLNESS, was announced by Commissioner Jean-Pierre L. Oriol of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.

Curated by Monica Marin, Chief Curator of the Division of Libraries, Archives, and Museums, the exhibition invites artists from the Virgin Islands, the African-Caribbean Diaspora, and those connected to the region to showcase their work.

Featured artists include Waldermar Brodhurst, Jeffrey Rezende, Victoria Rivera, Elisa Mackay, Danica Davis, Niarus Walker, Adrian Edwards, Ray Llanos, La Vaughn Belle, Quiana Adams, Elwin Joseph, Stuart Rames, Mike Walsh, Danielle Kearns, Rob Gigsun, Therese Trudeau, Eric Paxton, A’we Study Group featuring Sayeeda Carter, Kemit Amon-Lewis, Oceana James, and Nina Mercer, among others.

The term BLACKFULLNESS, coined by the late Black feminist Audre Lorde, describes the profound sense of belonging and purpose she felt within the majority Black community of St. Croix. In her interview titled Above the Wind, Lorde reflected on how St. Croix helped her heal and become more active as an artist and human-rights activist. Similarly, many creatives from the United States have been inspired by the vibrant energy of the Virgin Islands community, which has served as a beacon of light and inspiration.

“This year’s exhibition spotlights the spirit of resistance that is at the core of Virgin Islanders’ identity and that is etched into everything that makes Virgin Islands’ cultural production so powerful,” stated Marin. “It calls attention to how Black protest, art, and activism in our region have influenced international Black brilliance and liberation.”

Admission to the exhibition is $10 per person, with free entry for students aged 17 and under. Additionally, there will be a free viewing on Saturday from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. The exhibition will run through October, and visitors can view it during the Fort Frederik Museum’s regular hours: Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

For more information, please contact Monica Marin at [email protected] or call 340-772-2021.

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USVI Community Pulse

Emancipation in the USVI: Celebrating Freedom and Resilience

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Today, the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) commemorate Emancipation Day, a significant public holiday marking the abolition of slavery in the Danish West Indies on July 3, 1848. This day stands as a testament to the strength and determination of the enslaved Africans who fought for and won their freedom 176 years ago.

Historical Background

The journey to emancipation in the USVI began under Danish rule in the 17th century, with the trans-Atlantic slave trade starting around 1673. Enslaved Africans were primarily forced to labor on sugarcane plantations under harsh and inhumane conditions. This oppressive environment led to several revolts, including a notable six-month rebellion on Saint John in 1733.

The pivotal moment came on July 3, 1848, when over 8,000 enslaved people, led by Moses Gottlieb (also known as General Buddhoe), initiated a non-violent uprising on Saint Croix. Overwhelmed by the scale of the revolt, Danish Governor Peter von Scholten declared the immediate emancipation of all slaves in the Danish West Indies, preempting an earlier plan to gradually abolish slavery by 1859​.

Celebrations and Events

Emancipation Day is celebrated with a variety of events that reflect the rich cultural heritage and enduring spirit of the Virgin Islanders. This year’s festivities include:

  • Freedom Walk: A symbolic journey from Fort Christian to Fort Frederik, held at dawn, honors the path to freedom taken by the ancestors.
  • Emancipation Day Parade: Starting at the Frederiksted Post Office, the parade showcases vibrant cultural displays and community participation.
  • Official Ceremony: Held at Buddhoe Park, this ceremony includes speeches, performances, and a reflection on the historical significance of the day.
  • Luncheon and Festivals: “Freedom, Feast & Folklore” luncheon on the Frederiksted Pier, followed by an evening of music and fireworks at the “Unshackled Music Festival” in Freedom City​.

Reflecting on the Past, Embracing the Future

Emancipation Day is not just a day of celebration but also a time for reflection on the struggles and sacrifices made by those who fought for freedom. The commemoration underscores the importance of remembering history and continuing the journey towards equality and justice. As Carol Burke, chair of the Emancipation Committee, emphasized, this day serves as a “springboard to a brighter, better-defined future” for all Virgin Islanders​​.

By honoring this day, the USVI acknowledges the resilience and bravery of its ancestors while inspiring current and future generations to uphold the values of freedom and equality. Emancipation Day in the USVI is a powerful reminder of the triumph of the human spirit against oppression and the ongoing pursuit of justice and dignity for all.

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USVI Community Pulse

Kayaking Through Salt River Kicks Off Coral Reef Week Festivities

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The East End Marine Park is launching a series of events in celebration of “Coral Reef Week,” beginning with an engaging kayak tour by BushTribe Eco Adventures on Sunday morning.

The aim of “Coral Reef Week” is to foster a connection between Virgin Islanders and marine ecosystems through a variety of enjoyable and free public activities.

Guides Travis McRae and Ty McRae from BushTribe Eco Adventures led participants on a two-hour educational tour through Salt River National Park. The event began with a safety briefing and an introductory lesson on kayaking.

Before embarking on their adventure, attendees received essential safety instructions and kayaking tips from the experienced guides.

While paddling through the serene waters of Salt River National Park on St. Croix’s north side, participants learned about local ecosystems, the park’s history, and intriguing facts about St. Croix.

Ty McRae shared that BushTribe Eco Adventures was founded 12 years ago with a mission to offer personalized, educational experiences in small group settings. In addition to kayak tours, BushTribe provides hikes to tide pools, bioluminescent kayak trips, and moonlight night kayaking.

For the remainder of Coral Reef Week, BushTribe Eco Adventures is offering free tours. To join the waitlist, text 340-277-2503. For bookings and more information, visit BushTribe’s website.

Other events scheduled for Coral Reef Week include:

  • Ocean-Inspired Art Exhibit: From July 2 to July 6 at the Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts, showcasing community-created art inspired by the ocean.
  • Coral Nursery Tour: On July 2 at the Nature Conservancy in Little Princess Coral Hub, featuring a guided tour of the coral nursery.
  • Youth Dive Day and Snorkel Clinic: On July 3, with a kids’ activity corner at Frederiksted Beach Pavilion from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. For more details, contact Alex at [email protected].
  • Beach Clean-Up: At Cottages by the Sea on July 4 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
  • Ecovan Pop-Up: At the market in Christiansted on July 5 from 9 a.m. to noon, offering fun activities, prizes, and coral reef information.
  • Movie Night: At Leatherback Brewery starting at 7 p.m.

For additional information on these events, contact Alex at 340-718-3367 or [email protected].

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