Amid the malice, mayhem and missteps of our daily lives in America, there are indeed wondrous things–planned events, natural occurrences, memorable people moments and the like–that distract, inspire, and transcend us. Then and there we see or hear or feel the immense possibilities still part of this great American multiplexity.
The cold winter heat of President Barack Obama’s inauguration day, with the audacity of the president and first lady’s hand-in-hand walk along Pennsylvania Avenue, chagrining all of the Secret Service personnel assigned that day; the towering glory of the 30-foot tall Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. statue dedicated on the Washington Mall in 2011; and the random kindness interactions observed in American streets, buildings, cafes and schools in recurring cycles, are all examples of such wonder.
Another instance is the sight of 150-plus wild Chincoteague ponies in Virginia making their annual swim at low tide on the last Wednesday of every July across the Assateague Channel from Assateague Island to neighboring Chincoteague Island, herded by Chincoteague’s “Saltwater Cowboys.” After the swim, the ponies prance and parade to the adjoining public carnival grounds, where the new foals are auctioned off to individual bidders on the last Thursday in July.
On that following Friday, the adult ponies make their watery trek back to Assateague Island, where they roam in the wild for another year. If you have not yet seen horses swimming in the ocean, in unpracticed relative unison, you’ve missed a treat.
On a recent visit to St. Croix, Virgin Islands, part of the American-owned Caribbean chain formally colonized by Denmark, I got a chance to see a comparative version of the Virginia ritual, what I would call the Chocolate Saltwater Cowboys. A group of young boys who clearly were highly skilled in this process swam racing thoroughbreds associated with the Randall “Doc” James Racetrack on the island through their training paces. Not once did any of the youngsters get kneed or hoofed by the underwater legs of the horses, they always stayed on the horses’ withers flank so they could steer the horses expertly straight or in a circle, and the horses never seemed to panic, even when waves gently rolled over their heads. It was a magnificent view of an unexpected pleasure. It was also a metaphor of the real resilience, ingenuity, and craftsmanship possessed by the Cruzans, and other Virgin Islands citizens.
St. Croix, at 84-square miles, is the largest of the three main islands that make up the Virgin Islands, along with St. Thomas, St. Johns, and Water Island. The combined territories were purchased from Denmark for $25 million in gold in 1917 (equivalent to around $460 million today), primarily as a war measure and as the USA’s imperial expansion into the Caribbean.
Countries or nation-states intent on international influence and significance, had to have ownership of overseas territories or colonies, it had regularly been decided by more than a legion of European and neo-European foreign policymakers. What made England into Great Britain was indeed her expanding colonial presence from the 17th to the 20th centuries, and the English ability to exploit those conquered territories for English benefit.
As have Guam, Wake Island, Samoa, the Puerto Rico Commonwealth, etc., the American Virgin Islands colonies have made their contributions and continue to make more toward the greatness of the USA. Unfortunately, that historical significance is rarely taught to V.I. students. Instead, the standard educational orientation is to train Virgin Islanders to accept their perpetual inferiority and grateful obligation to the USA mainland. The world still awaits the historical perspective and grand narrative that will someday be provided by the African descendant population of the Virgin Islands territories that will explain and elucidate the singular significance of that group’s participation in America’s growth and development.
Meanwhile, we all will have to be content in recognizing change agent champions in the islanders’ midst, when they rise above the fray and achieve noteworthy status in moving the population forward. Such is the Kahina family, led by parents and community activists KaRa and Chenzira, with a core of their young geniuses being trained to move St. Croix to higher ground economically, politically and logically.
Also among those luminaries is long-serving U.S. Congresswoman for the Virgin Islands, Donna Christensen (the V.I., since 1972, has been granted a non-voting seat in the U.S. House, and is a continuing member of the CBC), who has been in office since 1996. The new and trendy president of the University of the Virgin Islands, David Hall, Ph.D., is a mover and shaker for island progress, as is radio station entrepreneur (WSTX Radio) and all-around renaissance man Kevin A. Rames.
Simone Palmer, owner of the Sand Castle on the Beach Hotel, is a marvel of Cruzan good will and let’s-do-it-together charm. Gloria I. Joseph, Ph.D., is a true community scholar, author, no-nonsense elder and spirit guide for the future. Yaa Asantawaa is the new head of Fihankra in Ghana, and we must note that Gene Emanuel, Ph.D., recently departed, was an academic warrior of a man with a great plan for sparking national pride and independence, and his student legacy in St. Thomas, including Leslie, Darla and the new African Heritage Committee (and hopefully, new Program in African and Caribbean Studies) are continuing on. These are but a few of the many island champions dedicated to changing the USA-V.I. paradigm for the greater good.
In white sandy beach heaven, the U.S. Virgin Islands is much more than the perfect tourist destination for peace, serenity and escapist fun. Amid the casinos and parimutuels of St. Croix, the commercial glitz of St. Thomas, and the old world neighborhoods of St. Johns, growing alongside the aromatic flora and fauna of the islands, is a new generation of Virgin Islanders intent on raising the territories to the status and dignity many of their citizens believe the islands have earned, and which they richly deserve.
It is always a wonder to watch an idea whose time has come merge with the youthful exuberance and skill necessary to bring it to full fruition. Strike up the junkanoo! Here comes the new and improved St. Croix and the Virgin Islands–paradise has plans.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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