History rewrites itself this Black History Month as a new set of students learn the ropes while helping to promote cultural awareness at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI). As a standing committee of the University’s Student Government Association (SGA), “raising awareness and promoting African Heritage on campus and abroad” is what they are charged to do according to the school policy.
The University of the Virgin Islands “Black” Heritage Committee is a student-based organization charged with the responsibility of raising awareness and promoting African Heritage on campus and abroad. According to Article VIII Section 11 letter F of the UVI SGA Constitution, the “Black” Heritage Committee shall be responsible for planning and implementing programs of “Black” cultural awareness.
From on the UVI website, in 1986, the United States Congress named UVI one of America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU); therefore, it holds the distinction of being the only HBCU outside of the continental United States. HBCUs are a source of accomplishment and great pride for the African American community as well as the entire nation.
The BHC serves as an integral part of the University’s effort to share with it’s students the rich culture of the Virgin Islands, Caribbean as well as African American and African history. A past Professor of the University and co-chair of the BHC, Gene Emanuel lead hundreds of students on historical and environmental nature tours while sharing stories of local historians who helped to influence global world leaders such as Edward Wilmot Blyden, Marcus Garvey, Dr. Ben and others.
The Virgin Islands has a number of people and things that makes it unique even today, but historically, many reasons exist that have paved the way for a ‘magical and healing experience’ to many that travel here, even if only for a day. For history lovers, here are a few facts:
- the first jurisdiction under the U.S. flag to be emancipated by slavery
- the first successful slave rebellion in the Western Hemisphere on St. John in 1733
- the only state under the U.S. flag with the distinction of having over three quarters of the population of African ascendants
These and more are lessons passed down from past and some current UVI faculty, including Professor Emanuel who joined the UVI faculty in 1981, when the University was still the College of the Virgin Islands (CVI). Searching online, one can find statements by the then Governor of the Virgin Islands as well as the University President hailing the work and principles that Emanuel stood for. “Throughout his career, Professor Emanuel stressed that learning involves more than acquiescing to the status quo – that the consciousness of students must actually be raised. An avid Pan-Africanist, Professor Emanuel’s passion for Afro-Caribbean history and culture was always evident.”
If they don’t know how great we were, then they can never be expected to realize how much greater they can be. Going back through the timeline of events with the BHC, there is much to learn and even more to teach. The students will continue to change, but the history will always remain the same.
To be continued…
The UVI SGA “Black” Heritage Committee, Sankofa Saturdays & the Pan African Support Group presents #Blackhistory #MOVIEnights 6-9pm #FRIDAYS at the University of the Virgin Islands #CHASEauditorium