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Senate Rejects Bill to Enhance Festival Organization in the Virgin Islands

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Influencer Kay Love enjoying the vibrancy of the 2022-2023 Crucian Christmas Festival. Photo by KGP/V.I. CONSORTIUM.

A recent initiative led by Senator Franklin Johnson to ensure equal and more effective management of festivals across the Virgin Islands did not advance in the Senate. The proposal, Bill 35-0232, sought to streamline the Division of Festivals by replacing the role of assistant director on each island with island-specific directors. This adjustment, aimed at removing unnecessary bureaucratic layers, proposed a shift towards a more nimble and responsive festival management structure, envisioned to better celebrate the distinct cultures and identities of each island community.

Senator Johnson, with the backing of significant figures such as former senators Janelle Sarauw and Myron Jackson, as well as the endorsement of former Governor Kenneth Mapp, highlighted the importance of having dedicated leadership on each island. This local focus was expected to enrich the festival experience, ensuring it mirrors the unique essence of each island’s heritage and community spirit. However, amidst aspirations to illuminate the diverse cultural tapestry of the islands, the bill was halted due to a lack of second motion in the Committee on Economic Development and Agriculture.

The conversation around this bill brought to light various concerns, particularly regarding the perceived disparities in festival execution, especially when comparing the Crucian Christmas Festival with the St. Thomas Carnival. Key community stakeholders, including Senator Diane Capehart, Senator Marise James, and longtime festival participant Rena Francis, voiced their frustrations over issues ranging from communication breakdowns to the potential shortening of festival days due to financial constraints. The heart of their argument lies in the belief that a director residing on their respective island would lead to more equitable, transparent, and culturally resonant festival planning and execution.

Despite the push for reform, the Department of Tourism expressed reservations, with Assistant Commissioner Alani Henneman emphasizing the potential overreach into executive operational management. The department defended the existing festival structure as instrumental in fostering growth and unity across the territory’s festival events since its establishment in 2019.

The debate on the bill underscored a broader discussion on how best to support and celebrate the unique identities of each island while fostering a sense of unity across the territory. Senator Alma Francis Heyliger, among others, cautioned against measures that could sow division, advocating for alternative approaches to promote island-specific cultural expressions within a harmonious territorial framework.

In the end, the absence of support within the committee halted the progress of Senator Johnson’s bill, a development he attributed to potential fears of retaliation among supporters. This setback underscores ongoing challenges in achieving a balance between island autonomy and territorial unity in cultural celebrations, highlighting a continued search for justice and fairness in the administration of the Virgin Islands’ cherished festivals and carnivals.

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The Countdown to St. Thomas’s Unity Festival Heats Up

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The excitement is palpable as we edge closer to the Unity Festival, poised to transform Crown Bay Dock into a pulsating epicenter of music, culture, and togetherness on May 5th. This year’s edition, headlined by the globally acclaimed Burna Boy, is shaping up to be a memorable day for everyone present, despite an unforeseen change in the lineup.

The festival’s atmosphere took a bittersweet turn when organizers recently announced the absence of Morgan Heritage from the lineup, due to the unfortunate passing of Peetah Morgan. Known for their indelible mark on the reggae genre, Morgan Heritage will now grace the USVI with their presence on St. Croix at a future date, offering fans a chance to honor Peetah Morgan’s enduring legacy.

In a move that reflects the festival’s commitment to accessibility and unity, ticket prices have been revised, with general admission now starting at $174 plus taxes. This adjustment ensures more fans can experience the exceptional array of talent scheduled to perform.

Burna Boy, renowned for his mesmerizing performances and pioneering music, is poised to headline the event, guaranteeing a captivating show. R. City, the Grammy-winning duo from the Virgin Islands, will return home to deliver their eclectic mix of pop, reggae, Soca, and R&B, adding a local flavor to the international lineup.

Spice, the dancehall phenomenon, is set to thrill attendees with her energetic performance and hit songs, making her one of the most anticipated acts of the festival. Her presence underscores the festival’s dynamic range of musical offerings.

The event will also shine a spotlight on the USVI’s own musical talents, including an array of local bands and DJs. International sensations DJ Puffy and DJ Private Ryan are slated to perform, promising to enhance the festival vibe with their genre-blending mixes.

With its final preparations underway, the Unity Festival stands as a powerful symbol of music’s unifying force. Organizers are committed to presenting an event that celebrates the Caribbean’s unity, music, and diverse cultural heritage.

As the festival nears, it not only signifies a key moment in the Caribbean’s cultural calendar but also marks the culmination of the St. Thomas Carnival season. This positioning as the final act of the carnival provides a fitting and vibrant conclusion to the festivities, celebrating the community’s culture, resilience, and shared joy. Attendees are invited to be part of a momentous close to the carnival season, experiencing a gathering that transcends music to embody the spirit of the Caribbean.

Fans looking for more information or to secure their tickets are encouraged to visit the Unity Festival’s official EventBrite page. With the festival poised to be a standout event of the year, securing a ticket promises a day filled with unity, music, and unparalleled celebration.

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Liberty VI Announces Completion of Transition from AT&T Networks

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Residents of the Virgin Islands who have stayed with Liberty VI during its transition from AT&T’s networks to its proprietary system now have a reason for optimism, as the company has announced the successful completion of its migration process.

In a significant move back in 2020, Liberty acquired the customer base of AT&T in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico for $1.95 billion in cash. Following this acquisition, Liberty embarked on a journey to enhance its infrastructure, leading to the initiation of customer migration from the old AT&T network starting in June 2023.

The transition was not without its hurdles, triggering a wave of dissatisfaction among customers. Complaints ranged from dropped calls and service interruptions to poor communication from Liberty’s customer service team. The situation drew the ire of legislators, particularly during a committee meeting in January, where the negative impact on international telecommunications due to the migration was discussed at length.

Despite these challenges, by February 28, Liberty VI reported that it had successfully moved over 90% of its customers in the region to its new system. This progress occurred amidst an ongoing investigation by the Public Services Commission into the migration’s tumultuous execution.

As March concluded, Liberty VI was nearing the end of the migration process, even as legislation was being considered to mandate the PSC to lodge a formal grievance with the Federal Communications Commission over the ordeal.

If Liberty VI’s latest announcement is any indication, the resolution of post-migration issues might render such a complaint unnecessary. Ravindra Maywahlall, the General Manager, extended his appreciation to both customers and employees for their patience and trust during the transition. With the migration now complete, the focus shifts to refining the service platforms to ensure the exceptional mobile service experience Liberty aims to provide, as stated by Maywahlall.

He acknowledged that some customers might still face issues, particularly with device compatibility and software updates, notably on Samsung devices. Liberty VI is actively reaching out to those affected to offer support, and encourages customers to verify their device compatibility via a dedicated section on the Liberty website.

Now operating on its own network infrastructure, Liberty VI is poised to introduce new offerings and packages for its customers, promising enhanced flexibility, control, and service innovation. These new options are now accessible both online and in Liberty VI’s retail locations.

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Celebrating Vaughn “Akae Beka” Benjamin: A Monument and Park in the Virgin Islands

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The Virgin Islands is set to celebrate the enduring legacy of reggae icon Vaughn “Akae Beka” Benjamin by establishing a monument and dedicating a park in his honor, pending the approval of new legislation. The Senate Committee of Government Operations has voted to allocate $45,000 towards the creation of the “Vaughn Benjamin Monument” and to rename a waterfront park west of Marley Homes in Frederiksted as “The Vaughn ‘Akae Beka’ Memorial Park,” under Bill 35-0030.

The initiative, championed by Senator Novelle Francis, aims to recognize Benjamin not only for his musical achievements but for his profound impact as a thinker, writer, and spiritual guide within the Rastafarian community. “Vaughn Benjamin’s legacy transcends his musical accolades; his life was a testament to intellectual curiosity, spiritual leadership, and artistic brilliance,” Francis remarked.

Niani Benjamin, providing testimony to the committee, echoed the sentiment, highlighting her brother’s influence on education and community involvement. Dale Wathey, a close friend of Benjamin, expressed pride in the recognition, affirming the reggae legend’s worthiness of such an honor.

Phil Codrington, representing the Ethiopian World Federation, and Bevan Smith, a reggae aficionado, also lent their voices in support, underlining Benjamin’s unparalleled contribution to music and his humble nature. Smith described Benjamin as “the most distinguished and universally esteemed musician from the Virgin Islands, whose commitment to reggae was unmatched.”

The bill garnered unanimous support from the committee members, with Senators Alma Francis Heyliger and Javan James Sr. openly praising Benjamin’s extraordinary talent and his influence on their lives. The next step for the bill is a review by the Committee on Rules and Judiciary, moving one step closer to immortalizing the reggae legend in the fabric of Virgin Islands culture.

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