13 March 2014

Virgin Islands Minister for Education and Culture calls for more awareness of territory's African history

Statement by Honourable Myron V. Walwyn
Minister for Education and Culture
Government of the Virgin Islands


Officially started in the United States in 1976 and now recognised by governments around the world, Black History Month is a time where citizens around the world, of all races, take the time to understand the journey of Africans on the continent and in the diaspora. It is also a time for us to appreciate our struggles and contributions to this new world.

It is a time that I hope we here in the Virgin Islands will use to learn even more about our history as Virgin Islanders and our connection to people of African decent throughout the world and indeed in our region. While we celebrate our local heroes such as the Honourable H. Lavity Stoutt, Dame Janice Pereira, Honourable Ralph T. O’Neal and Mr. Noel Lloyd, we must also equally celebrate the contributions of names such as Errol Barrow, Franz Fannon, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., and yes, Barack Obama.

As Virgin Islanders, it is important for us to remember that our journey is very much connected to those of persons of African ancestry throughout the region and throughout the world and the freedoms and opportunities that we enjoy today, have been inspired by King, Mandela, Barrow and many others.

We must also recognise that black history does not start with the Atlantic Slave Trade. While our ancestors came to the Americas as slaves, we should be fiercely proud to learn about their history as independent and free men and women throughout Africa prior to the 16th century.

Reflection on one of my favourite quotes, our Jamaican brother, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, where he said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”

Upon becoming the Minister for Education and Culture, one of the first things I had the opportunity to do was to utilise members of our community through the African Studies Club to work along with the Department of Education in putting together a curriculum for Virgin Islands History to be taught in our secondary schools. We were able to get this completed and have instruction started for the 2012-2013 school year.

Going back to that quote by Marcus Garvey, I do not believe that we can build young people to further these Virgin Islands without first giving them an understanding of their heritage and inspiring an appreciation for that heritage. This firmly plants them in our community and gives them an understanding of their purpose and their responsibility as citizens of these great Virgin Islands.

I want to commend Mr. Gill Trott and members of the Virgin Islands African Studies Club for their continuous efforts to refine our self image. On Sunday, February 2, I had the opportunity to attend the wreath laying ceremony to commemorate the lives of our ancestors that were lost during the travel to the Americas as well as those that died since.

At the ceremony we were given a broad history of the journey of slaves that ended up in the Virgin Islands by our very own Dr Catherine Smith. We also heard from local authors, Dr. Quincy Lettome, Dr. Pat Turnbull, Mrs. Verna Penn Moll and Ms Eugenia O’Neal, who have all woven in the history of our ancestors in their work.

Annually this event pays tribute to our ancestors and it reminds us of our connection to a significant event in world history. We have indeed come a very long way and now it is time for us to make our contribution to the rich history provided by our ancestors.

Throughout the month I will be highlighting significant individuals of African ancestry on my Facebook page. I encourage other members of our community to do the same. During this month of February, I would ask our teachers throughout our schools to have our students select a person of African decent that has made a significant contribution to the development of our race, their community or the world. I ask that these presentations be made by the students during class and general school assembly.

This presents an opportunity to expose our students to the lives and works of men and women who have changed the world for the better and to whom they are connected. This will give our youth knowledge of their past history, origin and culture and firmly root them in our community with confidence to become productive citizens.

Let this month be a great opportunity for all of us in the Virgin Islands to learn more about the history of both Virgin Islanders and other persons of African heritage.

Happy Black History Month 2014 Virgin Islands!

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