Empress PJ Crosby, poet, playwright, director, is transforming Virgin Islands youth, through the arts at Pistarckle Theatre each summer on St. Thomas. Born in London, England and raised in Long Island, NY Empress PJ Crosby has been working with the youth since she was a youth and is an active outreach teacher of spoken word and poetry.
Over the years, Empress PJ has repeatedly travelled with her programs to St. Thomas where she teaches children during the summers at the Pistackle Theatre. Since 2012, she has returned annually to teach her leadership program. Funded by a grant from the V.I. Department of Labor, “Stopping Crime Starts at the Roots!!” her youth playwright camp is now in its fourth year.
PJ has also taught at Kidscope Inc., which serves child victims of abuse, neglect and sexual molestation on St. Thomas. She says that what strongly influenced her interest and drive for working with youth was active involvement with organizations such as the Student Government, Campus Women’s Collective and the Honor Society during her college years.
Released on January 22, 2011, A Journey With Empress PJ is her debut solo CD. As an active freestyler, writer, poet, public speaker and mentor, while on island, she also continues to use her talents while performing at The Rock Collective’s The Rock Lounge or mentoring youth in the Virgin Islands and abroad.
GrassrootsVI News – Savan’s Caretakers Returning Home to Organize
By DaraMonifah Cooper
Off-island ‘Savanero’, Iffat Walker walked through areas of Savan taking photos, video, talking to anyone and recruiting support both within and from around the community as part of the initial research stages for a clean-up and revitalization initiative set to initially kick-off in July. Her passion for her Virgin Islands’ neighborhood, and all of the family that still lives there, keeps her coming home regularly to visit and help build.
In addition to the research work done within the neighborhood itself, she also met with agencies and individuals who agreed to partner with the initiative in general support of re-building the community’s self-pride. After the first community meeting and a few initial networking meetings, including those with the Enterprise Zone Commission at the VI Economic Development Authority Director, Nadine Marchena Kean, and the University of the Virgin Islands Cooperative Extension Service’s (UVICES) District Supervisor, Dr. Louis E. Petersen, Jr., Iffat is further encouraged to continue with her research and outreach efforts.
Knowing that it takes a village, Iffat sought out the assistance of others who are already known for having similar or related missions. “It’s not my intention to reinvent the wheel. People here have already been doing this work and I’m just trying to help them work together better,” she stated. As one of the suggestions from young men in the neighborhood interested in having a community garden, Iffat also met with Albion “Chico” George of the UVICES office who is known for his work with starting up various community and school gardens.
Also seeking youth insight and support, she reached out to the Sankofa Saturdays Youth Cultural Education Initiative and was able to appear on their radio show as well as have footage taken and donated by their youth media team.
With challenges ranging from individual to organizational, she noted that there are a range of potential support systems needed and Iffat is determined to do whatever she can to use her community organizational, networking, professional and personal skills to rally others to give it another try collaboratively.
“Some have given up hope or were basically discouraged to continue due to a number of challenges, so we’re seeking that information as well as intend to be creative with forming solutions to those previous and current challenges,” she continued.
As one of the managing administrators for Community Action Now, Inc., a Georgia based organization; this is more than just another project for Iffat. She has a personal vested interest in the Savan area. “Many of the people walking around in Savan are my family,” she noted, also mentioning the need to change the negative impression some have of the area. “With Savan being the neighborhood in basically the center of Charlotte Amalie town, it would benefit the entire community to have it restored to better reflect its original reputation. The historical significance of Savan spans decades of stories with it being the first organized neighborhood for local businesses and activity,” she added.
Iffat noted that many Virgin Islanders are interested in returning home both to visit and to live, but like her, they are doing what they can from off island to help restore it first. With regular initiatives like the Department of Tourism’s territory-wide clean ups and all other organizations and individuals who regularly make their contributions on island or online, the air of hope and determination are building. With the assistance of those both on and off island, the Savan area and the Virgin Islands is prepped to becoming a cleaner, safer and more productive environment for residents and visitors alike.
For more information on this initiative, contact Iffat Walker at email@example.com or check out the Proud to Be A Savanero Facebook group page and the main organization’s website based in Georgia. Photos are available here.
On Saturday, April 25, 2015, parents, facilitators and young boys at the Family Resource Center Youth Intervention Program celebrated the closing ceremony of their Boys Rites of Passage program. The gathering allowed parents to see the various character building experiences and growth their children achieved during their months together as participants of the program. The free program is funded by the Department of Human Services, and starts in January and September annually.
Learning emotional and spiritual self management Tai Chi with Calvin Dallas students start the day off doing Tai Chi and Chi Gung to balance and center themselves with self discipline and focusing techniques outdoors facilitated by Calvin Dallas. Dallas is one of the four adult instructors at the Boys Rites of Passage Program on St. Thomas, VI under the Family Resource Center.
Photo Caption: Calvin Dallas bringing it in with the boys after a Tai Chi morning session
Teaching self pride and respect through cultural literacy, Dr. Celia Victor uses methods like The Virtues Project along with modern and basic history instilling a sense of accomplishment and possibilities in the young men.
Addelita Cancryn Jr. High School Art Teacher Leba OlaNiyi teaches ecological arts and crafts to the boys along with African drumming. The facilitators at FYCIP understand that listening first, then sharing non academic methods of training encourage the boys to express themselves creatively and also become more considerate problem solvers.
Students display their vision boards with their mentors
If I borrow you my love
will you return it
battered and bruised
tormented and used
or will you cherish it?
Loving me like
when it’s really only been moments
in each others thoughts
If I allow you to let me come in and sit for a while
just enough to make you smile
will you let me leave
or will this
innocent effort of kindness
passion and mindlessness
be too much to let go
once you know
I know of the pain you speak
and I too feel the void you wish to seek
though I’ve not yet found it myself
the hope of it haunts me
my realities have become fairy tails
and my daydreams my reality
I create heroes and halos from recycled matter
than have no home
this gives me solace
when I can’t find my way
helping others throughout their day
allows me purpose in a world of my own
where even the youngest appears full grown
a pleasant Distraction
yearning for satisfaction
not my own
I feed myself
by fulfilling your hunger
If I borrow you my love
will you return it
feeling that you owe me
You’ve already paid
It’s actually me that’s returning the favor
“Most people come only with the intention of purchasing local produce, but there’s so much more to experience than just the food, ” shared JahStarr Ras Koniyah, former secretary for the We Grow Food, Inc Bordeaux farmers organization prior to his untimely transition.
He would brag that, driving into the Western most part of the island, “the difference in the air,” is the first thing that changes as the city life is left behind replaced with the surrounding green hills and vegetation. The peaceful environment lays right in the middle of a small quiet neighborhood in the Bordeaux area also known as Fortuna.
Here children run freely and the one main road is only a connecting line allows locals and visitors to get into and out of the area. A large portion of the hillside is farm land and home to the island’s oldest Rastafarian community. Horses, cows and other animals can be seen in the area and on every other Sunday music heard coming from the bi-weekly Farmers’ market.
Here is where you’ll find many of those known as the caretakers of the land as from sunrise to sunset there is always a hand in the soil preparing for the next rains or reaping. Young and old assist in the work and also in the enjoyment of celebration when it’s time. Along with technology that has made it’s way into this community, you will also see random children running around the market playing games made of everyday items like basketball with cardboard water boxes or baseball with sticks and stones. Even a simple game of tag transforms groups of youth into flashes of color and happy sound as they run by.
Here is where local families are found singing, dancing before, during and after they sell or trade their produce with each other and visitors that may appear. Decades of memories and traditions color the stalls high-lit with red, yellow and green as well as African symbols, sayings and faces.
A relaxing trip to the Bordeaux Farmers’ Market on a bi-weekly basis tends to leave smiles on the faces of many and lighter souls return to their homes after sunset every other Sunday from the hills of Bordeaux, on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. “A long ride for long life,” as We Grow Food, Inc. co-host Empress Shaca, proudly shares during their weekly radio show.
The Fruit of V.I. Agriculture in Good Hands with Dr. Louis E. Petersen, Jr. and Commissioner Carlos Robles – Part One | Petersen’s story
By DaraMonifah Cooper
Dr. Louis E. Petersen, Jr. is a born and raised U.S. Virgin Islands leader whose life-long passion for agriculture has led to an exemplary career which has helped him to blaze a trail of successes that promise to be continued in his latest role at the University of the Virgin Islands Cooperative Extension Service (UVICES).
As described by Dr. Petersen, the story that led him on the path to agriculture began in 1975 during the longest teachers strike in the history of the Virgin Islands. He was a student at the Charlotte Amalie High School and along with other students, didn’t agree with staying at home. Although there were no teachers in the classroom, what they did was to start an agricultural club at the school. They gradually got support from various sources, including from Cyril Emanuel King, the Governor at the time. King came to visit with them and expressed his love and encouragement for what they were doing. According to Dr. Petersen, when Governor King came, “the following day we got all the tools that we needed that we didn’t have.”
Reminiscing, Dr. Petersen shared that, “In the summer time, Governor King employed us through the youth commission, which was the ultimate encouragement. Petersen reports that when they were finished with school, they left and studied. In between his studies, Petersen came home to seek employment. For a semester, he worked for Extension Service. “That’s where my love, my familiarity with the role of the Extension Service office became apparent,” he explained. When he returned home from school, he continued to work at the Extension Service office.
In 1992, after first being a UVICES student worker and then Agent, Dr. Petersen was promoted to the position of UVICES District Supervisor. Three years later he became the U.S. V. I. Assistant Commissioner of Agriculture, then returned to UVICES as the District Supervisor, only to be promoted to U.S. V. I. Commissioner of Agriculture in 2007.
During the last eight years in his most reputable role as U.S. V. I. Commissioner of Agriculture, he said that he experienced “an extremely challenging but fulfilling eight years.” He reiterated, “There was no plan that was laid out for us when we started so we weren’t sure what to follow. Having gone through the full circle of thinking it through, sitting with staff, sitting with farmers devising a plan and then putting that plan in to action and seeing many parts of the plan be fulfilled,” Dr. Petersen explained how he lead the team that chalked up another great accomplishment for the Territory.
Expounding upon the same topic, Dr. Petersen said, “We are a territory that has been overlooked so many times by the National agency of agriculture and the USDA. Because of that we often times have not been considered or included in programs.” He added that two of those examples are the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which was made law in 2004, and the Farmers Market Promotion Program grant which was authorized in 1976.
He continued, “We took two of those eight years fighting a battle back and forth with correspondences, teleconferences and everything else before we were finally given the status of being eligible. That I feel was a great accomplishment because in my recollection we’ve never before challenged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to include us in programs that we were not eligible for. Subsequently, funding from that program was used in many areas including the fruit orchard establishment project which is now territory-wide.”
On the Farmers Market Promotion Program grant, Dr. Petersen shared, “We fought five years out of the eight years for the second one and only in 2012 did we become eligible. It was a great accomplishment and milestone in our history. Because of those two victories the territory is now eligible for more funding for agricultural development.”
“The two primary local agencies in the territory that work on behalf of and in support of farmers are indeed the (V.I.) Department of Agriculture and the UVI land grant program, meaning the Extension Service and Experiment Station, so we have always worked together,” shared Dr. Petersen. “I cannot think of one initiative in which we didn’t collaborate.”
He went on to say, “At the (V.I.) Department of Agriculture, our mandate was very broad whether it was outreach and policy establishment however with the Extension Service program our mandate is informal education to the farming clientele.”
Commissioner Designee Carlos Robles, shared the same sentiment in the way the two agencies work hand-in-glove together. He expressed how long he has been learning from Dr. Petersen’s example from as far back as their school days attending Charlotte Amalie High when he first learned about the agriculture club that Petersen had played a major role in starting. In terms of how he sees the offices working together he made it clear that UVICES always plays a mandatory role in the success of the (V.I.) Department of Agriculture’s goals. “Informing farmers on how to work more efficiently and effectively is where we will be leaning on UVICES,” he added.
When asked how he feels about returning to UVICES, Dr. Petersen proudly stated, “I find myself continuing in many respect what we began and working for the same goal and the same clientele, but from another perspective.”
For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Chenzira Davis Kahina | Mother, Educator, Culture Preservationist, Spiritual Leader +
Sometimes when you’ve gone a distance in one direction, you realize that bringing along what you learned in the other direction will take you further and that actually, they both not only lead to the same place, but are a necessary balance of each other.
Multi-disciplinary educator, cultural performing artist, naturopathic therapist, ordained minister, community developer, scholar and visionary, Dr. Chenzira Davis Kahina’s story would fill bookshelves, but she’s probably burned the books. Instead she just writes them with each step and publishes new volumes with every new day. Her grassroots related experiences have taught her things that experiential learning explain best. A type of ‘common’ sense usually expected from the street, while her background in the halls of academia have her at an exceptional advantage above others who focus only on one specific area of expertise.
“Essentially because of the work that I do, sometimes the integration and the synergy is exceptional, and then other times it seems like there’s resistance…” Dr. Kahina
Per Ankh, Inc. is a charitable and spiritually centered non-government organization (NGO) and non-profit organization (NPO) “livicated to providing educational, cultural, environmental, social, holistic health & wellness, artistic, spiritual & other naturalistic resources and supports that positively contribute to the comprehensive improvement & sustainable development of our local, national and global communities.”
The University of the Virgin Islands V. I. and Caribbean Culture Center (VICCC) is designated to produce, develop and institute state-of-the-art research, publications, mixed media networks and programs, regional and international conferences, collaborative initiatives, academic and community partnerships, interdisciplinary cultural exchanges, socioeconomic development and heritage tourism events, educational resources and more.
As the primary Director of both entities as well as the leader of a number of others, Dr. Chen, as she’s often compassionately called has the opportunity to merge so much of her prior grassroots life experience prior to working at the University of the Virgin Islands in her current capacity as Director of the VICCC as well as the Center for the Study of Spirituality and Professionalism (CSAP).
When asked about how she balances the two, Dr. Kahina responds thoughtfully. “There’s a synergy that exists between culture, spirituality, the arts and technology that my work at the UVI gives me an opportunity to lend over to CSAP and the VICCC into what I do which Per Ankh and Smai Tawi, CPAN, PADU and a host of other global activities…” Dr. Chenzira Davis Kahina
“In all things Pan African, conduct oneself with character, courtesy and common sense.”
Sixth Region Diaspora Caucus (SRDC) Practicing Ma’at in Organizing the African Diaspora By David L. Horne, Ph.D.
Q: What would you suggest for approaching and responding to schools that ask for Black History presentations when you know they’re only asking you to come in because it’s Black History Month:
A: Dr. Kahina simply suggested a wealth of online sites that have related information made available in an ongoing everyday way. This way, the resources could be shared with students in a way that is easy to access and always available. She explained that this is important so that they can see that Black History is all the time and it is World history, not just information that is useful to one set of people.
We also discussed that one can’t really speak about Virgin Islands history without knowing and showing that it is Caribbean history.
Q: What do you think the students can contribute as well as learn at the same time… they can’t share what they don’t know so they have to be taught then encouraged to share with others.
A: They can go to various resources locally including people and places like our campus and public libraries, the Digital Library of the Caribbean as well as various offices like our Virgin Islands Council on the Arts and V. I. Humanities Council.
Learn more about experiences with the community that make it challenging to want to keep giving as well as the small triumphs that make all the sacrifices worth it in Part Two of Insight on the Grassroots Intellectual Experience: The Triumphs and Struggles with Dr. Chenzira Kahina and others.
KWANZAA365’s HabariGaniVI January 2015 Newsletter | Letter from the Editor
Locally-created organizations, KWANZAA365 and Sankofa Saturdays used their multi-media skills to continue assisting with educating, promoting, organizing and documenting the various activities.
First, the VI Kwanzaa Schedule, focused on providing an accessible list of Kwanzaa gatherings, activities and/or education was compiled and shared with local, national and international media sources and organizations. As a result, more people were able to learn, share and attend Kwanzaa events within the Virgin Islands.
KWANZAA365 also created and shared audio sound bites on Kwanzaa principles and celebrations with various radio stations which reached even more people who were able to learn about Kwanzaa, the various organizations that come together for annual activities as well as be informed about where the local events would take place.
An Ujamaa & Ujima (Cooperative Economics and Collective Work & Responsibility) meeting was held at the Natural Livity Kulcha Shop Lounge with grassroots organizations and business owner, hosted by KWANZAA365 and Sankofa Saturdays. Strategic planning was done collaboratively and an action plan put into place that will assist local grassroots organizations and businesses.
The Sankofa Saturdays youth documented the various events using photo, audio and videography and assisted with putting together a report of the Kwanzaa Season, which was then shared on heir weekly youth radio program on WUVI AM 1090 so that those who were unable to attend, were able to experience some of the events via photo, video and audio documentation.
Publicly speaking at all of the Kwanzaa events, sharing Kwanzaa education, contact information and inviting volunteers to assist with the Sankofa Saturdays Youth Cultural Education Initiative, the organizations are proud to end another official Kwanzaa season having educated, informed and obtained contact information list of volunteers for Sankofa Saturdays.
Some of the intended next steps or products include an annual calendar of cultural Sankofa Saturdays events in the VI, a directory of supportive grassroots individuals, organizations and businesses, a Saturday school as well as the organization of a collaborative grassroots media and communications network.
For more information or to view pictures, videos and listen to audio recordings, visit www.KWANZAA365.vi and www.SankofaSaturdays.com and their corresponding social media accounts:
Facebook | Twitter | Youtube
On a day like today all I care to do is write
The sound of my own voice instigates a useless internal fight
Why does it surprise us when we know where we are
We should’ve already had a plan before the distraction got this far
Now we’re falling right into the senseless master plan
They don’t have to see your cards if you’re always showing them your hand
Is it really that impossible to think outside the box?
The strategy should be easier to see, we’re the ones that made the locks
But just because we did it’s the end of the discussion
We also make the keys so why we accepting this concussion
Wake up my people, it’s not time to act off of emotion
Let’s use this as a reminder, to ourselves we need devotion
It’s not that I don’t care or don’t see the reason to speak out
Sometimes when the noise is so loud, I’d just rather listen than shout
I’ve learned through our confusion; in the silence comes the solution
Get to the core, constant contact now needed even more
ReBuild. We are the resounding resolution
Giving ThAnkhs for siStarQueens like Dena & Jahweh for bringing the V.I. solidarity gathering to life for the sake of our listening, learning, healing and re-building.
Saving Our Sons, Healing Ourselves | Their Lives Matter; Our Lives Count! Headed down to Brewer’s Beach #Solidarity #BrownFriday#blackfridayblackout #BlackLivesMatter #FergusonDecision #KWANZAA365Sankofa Saturdays Unsung Sheroes VI
The heavens are crying
So they can wash away all the blood
Spilled on our slippery streets of despair
The oceans are churning
Preparing to merge together with wise winds
In hopes of purging us so that we may be cleared
Cleared of all toxins
Like hatred and anger
Cleared of all fears
Like imminent hunger and poverty
Clearing us out so that we may make room
The heavens are crying!
The oceans are churning!!
The thunder is rolling!!!
Shall we wait for the earth to quake
And shake us out of our slumber
Or are we ready to do our part?
Mother Nature always has the last word
And Father time stands right beside her
Ready, willing and able to end it all
When she says so
Tired of seeing her crying
He awaits the signal
To set us straight