25 August 2012

Defining Ourselves: the Virgin Islands Story


The Presentation of the Territorial Song and Dress Finalists
 Eileene L. Parsons Auditorium
H. Lavity Stoutt Community College 
Paraquita Bay Campus

Virgin Islands family and friends I am indeed delighted to see all of you here this afternoon. I acknowledge the presence of:

Our Premier Hon. Dr D. Orlando Smith,
Deputy Governor Mrs. V. Inez Archibald
Members of the House of Assembly
Territorial Dress and Song Ad-Hoc Committee
 headed by cultural stalwart, Ms Eileene L. Parsons
The proud finalists of our competition
Senior public officers
Principals, teachers and children from our public and private schools
Virgin Islands musicians and designers
Members of the media
Ladies and gentlemen

Good Afternoon.

It would be remiss of me if I did not extend a special welcome to our Virgin Islands family members and friends that braved the seas this afternoon, from our sister islands, to join us on what I believe is an auspicious occasion.

I am pleased that in the program we have representation from residents on all of our islands. Importantly, we also have students from our public and private schools being a part of this occasion. It is indeed heartwarming to see so many faces and it tells me that you too understand the value of what we are trying to do here today. This is indeed a landmark moment for us in the Territory and we are all apart of Virgin Islands history.

We have long passed the years where there was less than 10,000 residents scattered across our islands. Today, we have almost quadrupled that amount and have welcomed persons not born in the Virgin Islands to share our home. While we will continue to welcome and attract individuals working for the development of our territory, as Virgin Islanders, today we take one more step forward in cementing our identity as Virgin Islanders, by this time around defining ourselves in song and dress.

While there is much room to debate who exactly is a Virgin Islander, amongst other things, my personal definition of this treasured title includes someone who is humble, friendly, respectful, someone who understands the meaning of community, someone that is not afraid of hard work, has an entrepreneurial spirit, and someone who has opportunities and take advantage of those opportunities in their homeland.

These are the traits that many of our forefathers possessed that propelled them to do great things and move our country forward. My involvement with the young people of the Virgin Islands, even before I became the Minister of Education and Culture, informed me that our young people feel somewhat disconnected, they are searching, and some even feel lost and unable to find their place in our community.

I fervently believe that this is due in part to the fact that the rich culture and heritage, and essentially what it means to be a Virgin Islander, has somewhat been lost upon this generation. Today is our opportunity to bring back our heritage and make it a part of our daily lives. I am convinced that by grounding our young people in their rich heritage will help them to navigate the many challenges and tribulations that will inevitably face as they mature.

You have heard me speak on many occasions about preparing our young people to adequately manage the responsibility that they will have one day to be leaders of industries in our Territory. While we reform our education system to ensure that our students can be competitive across the globe, in order to develop that well rounded adult, we must impart in our youth a strong sense of self, of who they are, where they came from and who they can be.

As a parent we naturally want a better life for our children. We want them to not have to struggle the way we did. Many of you in this room had to tend to cattle and sheep before you were able to walk a few miles to the church hall to attend school. I had to attend school and go to work in the afternoon to afford my school clothes and books. So for my children, I want them to not have to worry about those things. And those are very good intentions. But our success as parents and as a territory has outpaced our ability to pass on our heritage to our children.

With much of our success, we have unfortunately taken our heritage, put it in a jar, and put it up on a shelf; on display waiting to come out during August Festival and the tourist season. As a result there are a few generations of Virgin Islanders that are unable to connect with their purpose and birth-right to be productive and contributing members of our society.

Our students seem to know more about what’s going on with Nikki Minaj, Lil Wayne and Busy Signal, instead of knowing more about Elmore Stoutt, H.R. Penn, J.R. O’Neal and the many men and women that have built this country.

For me there is much pride to be identified with our struggles as African people and as Virgin Islanders. I look at the strength and endurance of our forefathers as they were left with no means of maintenance after slavery ended, but somehow they found their path and made a way for us to be here today.

We should all celebrate the history of our people. Virgin Islanders past were able to feed themselves and their families, built houses, boats and roads, sailed the seas, became entrepreneurs, educated our people, and instilled in us a reverence for prayer and the mercy that God continues to show us.

We have been blessed with the blood of leaders such as H. Lavity Stoutt, Cyril B. Romney, Terrance B. Lettsome, Ralph T. O’Neal, and Honourable Dr Orlando Smith. In them we have witnessed the spirit of the Virgin Islander, tenacious, creative, ambitious, entrepreneurial, true servants of the people and men and women willing to work to improve their own circumstance. That is the stock we hail from. For all of us, that acknowledgement should be both humbling and motivating, for us to do our part to continue this rich legacy.

Ladies and gentlemen, that is a heritage that we should all be very proud of. That is the heritage that I believe our young people desperately need to be acquainted with so they can become better grounded in life, find their purpose and their means of positively contributing to our society.

As Minister of Education and Culture and by your presence here this afternoon, I believe we are all saying that today, we are taking Virgin Islands heritage and culture off the shelf and I am positive that in short order, we will see the fruits of this initiative in the lives of all those that call these beautiful islands home.


Since last year the committee has been meeting to plan the competition that included special attention to ensure that we include all possible entries from Anegada to Jost Van Dyke. It is very important that as many citizens as possible had the opportunity to express their vision for a Territorial song and dress, and presented this afternoon will be those chosen by the committee. I would like to express my profound gratitude to all those persons who submitted their work for consideration.

I want to thank our Acting Director of Culture, Mrs Brenda Lettsome Tye for her outstanding work in helping us all realize this day.

Developing the guidelines for entries as well as judging the entries, we had an outstanding team of community stalwarts that managed the process with much care and understanding of the significance to our history as Virgin Islanders to finally complete the process of developing a territorial song and dress. Heading that committee was Mrs Eileene L. Parsons, supported by Dr Charles Wheatley, Honourable Delores Christopher, Mrs Shelia Brathwaite and Mrs Lettsome-Tye.

After today’s presentation of the finalist for the territorial song and dress, all entries will be taken to the House of Assembly at the next convenient sitting where a decision will be made by members of the House. Our Premier believes, and I fully agree, that this matter is too important to be decided by cabinet members only and should be decided by all the representatives of the people.

Efforts will be made to have the words of our Territorial song known to all residents. Once selected, this song will be sung at all official activities and I encourage private citizens and organizations to do the same at their functions.

At the start of the next school semester students in all of our schools, both public and private will be taught the Territorial song, which will be sung at their morning assembly. 

The appropriate variation of the Territorial dress will be used to outfit our national teams, starting with this year’s Olympic team headed to London in a few short weeks. Our Territorial dress will also be used for other ambassadorial or promotional opportunities.

To further instill a sense of pride and identity in our students, I have asked the Department of Education to spearhead the erecting of flagpoles at all schools, where students will be charged with raising and lowering the union jack, our territorial flag and the individual school’s flag which will be developed over next school year. I trust that this initiative will be in place by the start of the upcoming school year.


In closing I want to say thank you all for coming out and participating in the presentation of the finalists for the territorial song and dress competition. While today we come one step closer to realizing these two very important elements of the Virgin Islander’s identity, our territorial song and dress is an opportunity for all residents, born here or not to begin to grow a stronger sense of affinity to our islands. I call on us to unite as one people, working for the advancement of the Virgin Islands.

Despite where many of our residents hail from, I think we all can agree that we have much more in common than we have differences.   

Uniting around those commonalties and celebrating the splendor of the Virgin Islands we all call home is an opportunity to move this country forward.

Thank you.