As a member of the 28th Legislature, I recall my delight when Bill Number 28-0162 was passed, in which Section 9 states:
Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 5, section 41, subsection (c) is amended by adding paragraph 6 to read: “(6) Swimming and water safety for at least one school year, one hour per week taught by instructors with American Red Cross Water Safety Instruction Certification.”
As a boy growing up on St. Thomas, I spent many of my childhood days at our beautiful beaches swimming in our clear blue Sea. To me, the opportunity to swim at will in such an idyllic setting was one of the many benefits of growing up as an island boy and I have always felt blessed to have spent my childhood here in the Virgin Islands. I even recall an adventure swimming from Coki Point to Thatch Cay and an encounter with wild boars – although I do not think I will try that again! Even as an adult, I continue to enjoy our beautiful waters and am actually a certified dive instructor. Learning to swim in the Virgin Islands is a rite of passage that all children must enjoy in order to fully understand and experience the pure magic that is our island home.
Imagine my extreme disappointment when I read a recent Daily News article that mentioned that more than four years later, this provisions stated in this bill are not being enforced. Immediately after reading it, I incorporated the enforcement of this law into our Economic Recovery Plan under our Invest in Our Children and Support Young Leaders initiative and have already begun the necessary steps for its immediate implementation. This is our priority and we will make it happen.
Imagine the possibilities for our children and our Territory! It is a known fact that children who engage in extracurricular activities experience more academic success, social stability, higher self-esteem, increased interpersonal skill development, and among other positives. However, unfortunately many of our children are not able to participate in extracurricular activities because of economic barriers. With proper swim instruction, our children will be introduced to a sport that costs little to no money for participation – all they need are swimsuits and water, which we have plenty! Children can practice their new swimming skills at the beach with their families, which will give us all another reason to go out and enjoy our tropical Paradise. We can also establish school swim teams and create a swim league to increase the opportunity for interscholastic and inter-island sporting competition, boosting school and island pride while teaching our children much needed intangibles for their future success such as teamwork, determination, perseverance, and sportsmanship. Through the simple enforcement of this law, we will have happier children by providing them with another recreational outlet – decreasing idle, unproductive time – and healthier children as swimming is one of the most aerobically demanding, yet physically gentle sports. Through swim instruction, we can also equip students to open many additional doors for scholarships to pursue higher education. Swimming is a top sport for scholarship awards and with the fact that many of our students are students of color, University programs throughout the United States and abroad would welcome the opportunity to have a pool (pun intended) full of students with which to diversify their swim programs. We have yet to mention the opportunities that will now be available via careers as dive instructors or vessel captains and even adding swimming as a central element to our planned sports tourism. The possibilities are endless.
I envision a U.S. Virgin Islands with our Sea full of our local children – and not just tourists – embarking on adventures on the high seas of their own. I envision a U.S. Virgin Islands with pools full of our local children confidently competing and utilizing the tools for their future success which we have given them. I envision a U.S. Virgin Islands beaming with Territorial pride as we send our prized swimmers abroad as scholarship winners and even to be our Ambassadors to bring home the Olympic Gold. All of this is possible with the enforcement of one simple law. As your Governor, I will. Let’s Do It!
We believe in a Government BY and FOR the People of the U.S. Virgin Islands – not a Government guided by the special interests of an empowered few, but a Government guided by the best interests of Virgin Islanders just like you and me. For the last year, I have traveled throughout the Virgin Islands listening to your many concerns, sharing in your fears for our future, and the message is clear:
We the People of the U.S. Virgin Islands are ready for our voices to be heard.
We have heard the people of St. Croix, long feeling neglected and abandoned and crying out for a glimpse of hope for the future of our beautiful Big Island. We have heard the merchants and other small business owners of St. Thomas who are fearful for the future of their businesses because of rising energy and other costs. We have heard the concerns of St. John residents regarding their many infrastructural issues and from Virgin Islanders everywhere about the lack of affordable healthcare options, the state of our educational institutions, the increase in crime, a Government rife with inefficiencies, discrepancies, and other corruptions, and many more.
We the People of the U.S. Virgin Islands are ready for a change. Our time is now.
My Friends, we do not just have a platform on which to stand and speak, we have a Plan with which we are ready to enact real and lasting change in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Our plan of action – the U.S. Virgin Islands Economic Recovery Plan of 2015 – was developed BY the People of the U.S. Virgin Islands – as we listened to your many concerns and fears – and FOR the future prosperity of all Virgin Islanders.
We are ready to Stimulate Economic Development through the development of innovative new industries such as technology and aquaculture and the revitalization of existing industries such as the marine industry and agriculture.
We are ready to Improve Energy and Other Infrastructure by helping to lower energy costs, address our road conditions, and invest in upgraded playgrounds and recreational facilities for our children – and all of us – to enjoy.
We are ready to Reform Our Healthcare System by ensuring more affordable healthcare options and upgrading our medical facilities to provide in-Territory access to top-quality healthcare and supports telemedicine and medical tourism.
We are ready to Invest in Our Children and Support Young Leaders through investing in our educational institutions from preschool through the University of the Virgin Islands and creating professional pathways that encourage our young Virgin Islanders to remain or return home to become our rightful new generation of leaders.
We are ready to take back our communities and Improve Public Safety through the implementation of a mobile application that allows community members to submit crime tips and locations of crimes-in-progress discreetly and anonymously.
We are ready to Implement New Innovations in Tourism through new tourism opportunities that will also benefit local Virgin Islanders such as medical, sports, event, attractions, and music tourism including an annual Caribbean music festival.
We are ready to Establish a Government for the People of the U.S. Virgin Islands that is transparent, accountable, fiscally responsible, efficient, and customer-focused.
We are ready to Restore the Government Employees Retirement System (GERS) to provide stability and explore viable alternatives to ensure its continued operation.
We are ready to Strengthen U.S. and Caribbean Relations by restoring and establishing new binding economic and political relationships between the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, the British Virgin Islands, all nations throughout the Caribbean, and the United States Government.
We are ready to Preserve Our History, Culture, and Diversity through promoting respect for all Virgin Islanders and supporting opportunities to showcase our Virgin Islands traditions and encourage cultural exchange.
We the People of the U.S. Virgin Islands are ready for a change. Our time is now. Let’s Do It!
Today, March 31st, 2014, marks the 97th anniversary of the transfer of the Danish West Indies to the United States of America marking the birth of the U.S. Virgin Islands. My family, the Donastorg family, actually has its origins in the Danish West Indies and spans eight generations in our islands. Needless to say, I am very proud of our Danish heritage. As we commemorate this historic day, however, I am drawn to reflect on the significance of the then Danish West Indies to the United States in 1917 and the significance of the U.S. Virgin Islands today in 2014.
History tells us that the United States’ interest in the Danish West Indies was primarily for its strategic location in the Caribbean with a secondary interest in economic gain from its acquisition. However, as we quickly approach our 100th anniversary as an American protectorate, which will likely be commemorated with much celebration, pomp and circumstance, and festivities, one may wonder if our U.S. Virgin Islands is still recognized by the United States as prized emerald gems strategically located in the Caribbean scattered amongst a sea of turquoise. We do recognize that the U.S. Virgin Islands have progressed tremendously since our first Transfer Day and we certainly enjoy the many benefits of being citizens of the great United States of America; however, we also recognize that there is great potential for strengthening the relationship between our Territorial and our Federal governments and as such, strengthening this relationship is our priority and one of the key components of our Economic Recovery Plan of 2015.
As a Territory of the United States, we do not have full representation in the U.S. Government; we are unable to vote for our President, we do not have representation in the U.S. Senate, and our Delegate is a non-voting member of the U.S. House of Representatives. As a result, oftentimes, we do not receive equal nor adequate participation and we are often excluded from even basic affordable healthcare and other policy benefits afforded to the 50 States.
However, although the threat of the World Wars of old have passed, we strongly believe that our islands remain a treasure. We must position ourselves to be recognized by the U.S. once again for our strategic locational advantage which will help achieve sustained economic stability for our Territory. As a result of cultural similarity and increased intra-Caribbean migration to the U.S. Virgin Islands, our Territory possesses the unique advantage to appeal to the social and economic markets of the entire Caribbean. In 2014, the age of the global economy, we are perfectly positioned as the only primarily English-speaking American Territory in the Caribbean to become the cultural hub of the Caribbean – the crossroads where the financial resources of United States meet the Caribbean diaspora.
An increased U.S. interest and investment in our Territory will allow the U.S. access to additional developing markets throughout the Caribbean and the U.S. Virgin Islands access to the necessary capital, through increased federal support, needed to implement the infrastructural, societal, and governmental reform that is imperative for our economic advancement. An increased U.S. interest in our Territory in conjunction with our proposed new tourism innovations in the area of medical tourism, sports tourism, event tourism, attractions tourism, and music tourism can lead to a lasting partnership that is mutually beneficial for both Virgin Islanders and our Stateside countrymen. Imagine upgraded medical facilities, event and sporting venues, theme parks and outlet malls, and an annual Caribbean music festival; the possibilities for us are endless. The U.S. Virgin Islands is “America’s Paradise” and it is time that we begin to maximize our relationship with the U.S. Government and be once again fully coveted as we were on that first Transfer Day ninety-seven years ago.
I am fully confident that when we embark on our Economic Recovery Plan in 2015 and we celebrate our 100th anniversary as the U.S. Virgin Islands on March 31, 2017, we will be well on our way to establishing a renewed relationship, one that will benefit both the U.S. and the U.S. Virgin Islands for generations to come. Let’s Do It!
Recently the Jamaica Observer wrote an article on our plans to establish a thriving music industry and music tourism market here in the U.S. Virgin Islands: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/entertainment/USVI-politician-wants-to-expand-island-s-music-industry
I recognize the power of music to unite people of all races, creeds, and nationalities. I also recognize and am a strong supporter of the tremendous musical talent that we have right here in the U.S. Virgin Islands. We have so many talented Virgin Islands artists who leave our islands in search of a more robust musical landscape to showcase their talents, rarely returning because our Territory has failed to support and encourage them. As such, one of our priorities is to establish a thriving music industry to become a hub for our local and regional artists and develop a music tourism market to bring more visitors to our shores and provide a venue to showcase our Virgin Islands talent to the world.
We have a grand opportunity as the only culturally West Indian territory of the United States to capitalize on the ease of travel from the United States (no passport required!) and our Caribbean location that is proximate to our many Caribbean island neighbors to attract tens of thousands more visitors each year with a large annual music festival featuring major reggae, soca, R&B and other recording artists along with our local Virgin Islands and other Caribbean talent. Our music festival will not only provide enjoyment for our visitors, but also for our local Virgin Islanders to come together in peace, love, and music. Imagine how our music tourism will also support our hospitality industry. As a result, we will need more restaurants, accommodations, transportation, and new venues to be built. We will also experience more cruise ships and overnight visitors who will come to enjoy the festival and more.
We want to bring life back to the U.S. Virgin Islands and this is one of the many initiatives we will accomplish in our first year in office.
We have a beautiful product – our islands and our music – that rivals the world’s greatest and it is time to put the U.S. Virgin Islands on the musical map. Jamaica has already taken notice, let’s ensure that visitors from all over will flock to the USVI to enjoy our sun, our sand, our sea – and our sounds. Let’s Do It!
Today, Angel and I attended the Positive Guidance Small Fry Tournament at Central High School on St. Croix. It was refreshing to see that amidst what many consider to be one of the most troubling economic times in Virgin Islands history, our children remain our priority and I felt a great sense of hope as, through our collective efforts, we will soon begin to cultivate and witness the rise of our next generation of leaders. We commend the organizers of this weekend’s events for their role in ensuring that our children remain our glimmer of hope for our future.
We have both been advocates for sports and other extracurricular activities for Virgin Islands’ youth, with Angel being a current and longtime Little League coach on St. Croix and I having been an active supporter of many sporting programs throughout the Territory including tennis, swimming, baseball and others. I have spoken often about what we both believe are essential characteristics such as persistence, perseverance, dedication, tenacity, sportsmanship, discipline, focus, goal-setting, camaraderie, and many others that are gained through athletic and extracurricular participation, all of which serve to contribute to their ultimate personal and professional success. Exposure to extracurricular opportunities allows children to build a well-rounded socio-academic foundation that broadens their ability to develop critical thinking and analytical skills that are crucial for them to perceive the need for and pursue a higher level of leadership.
If we are going to truly progress as the U.S. Virgin Islands, it is important that we begin from the ground up and that is with investing in our young leaders. It is our responsibility as their Village to ensure that we prepare them with the academic and extracurricular tools necessary to lead us into the future of the U.S. Virgin Islands. If we fail them, then we fail all of us as the cycle of socioeconomic decline long caused by inefficiencies, ignorant negligence, and the inability to capitalize on much needed innovation will continue.
As such, it is our priority as the Donastorg-Torres team to invest in our future leaders, not only via enhancements to the educational system, but through promoting the availability of and participation in sporting and extracurricular opportunities to all of our children. In our beautiful island home, children can enjoy year-round activities including swimming, sailing, snorkeling, soccer, baseball, tennis, horseback riding, yoga, visual arts, performing arts including dance, instrument lessons, theatre, cultural arts such as stilt-walking and masquerading, and many academic clubs including chess, technology, and others too numerous to name; however, the disparity in which many of our children do not have access to or are not participating in these activities is alarming. We must level the playing field and help ensure that all children have the opportunity to engage in these very critical enrichment opportunities for their overall development. We may have in our midst the next Tim Duncan, or the next Julian Jackson, or the next Emile Griffith, or the first of many young phenoms who are yet to come. We must begin to invest in our children, our future leaders. We will only realize our promise once they realize theirs. Let’s Do It!
We would like to thank all of our Friends who attended the Friends of Donastorg-Torres Meet and Greet Social last night. It was a joyful evening filled with food, fun, and lots of dancing as we gathered to celebrate with optimistic hope our vision for the future of the U.S. Virgin Islands. We were extremely humbled and thankful to be surrounded by Virgin Islanders from all walks of life who expressed throughout the evening that they believe that we are the team who will bring real and positive change to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Your belief, trust, and confidence in us is not taken lightly; we fully embrace the responsibility that we have taken to ensure that your voices are heard and that your calls for prosperity and change are answered. We have spent countless hours with you, listening to your concerns and your needs, whether you are a teacher, taxi driver, retiree, parent, small business owner, unemployed, University student, college graduate, fisherman, farmer, and so many more Virgin Islanders whose voices we echo in our quest for change. We are on this journey for Virgin Islanders just like you and me who are ready to live a prosperous life, who are ready to have a fair chance at economic success, and who are ready to see our beautiful islands flourish like the beautiful flora that surround us each day. Thank you for walking on this journey with us. It is encouraging to know that as we have your backs, you also have ours. Our time is now. Let’s Do It!
Today, Mrs. Donastorg and I visited with Kindergarten students at the Alexander Henderson Elementary School on St. Croix. I am always inspired by the energy of young children because it is a reminder of the huge responsibility that we have as their parents, caretakers, and communities to channel this great energy to remain positive. My favorite part of our visit today was our story time. They were so excited for me to read them a story and I enjoyed every moment of it. Young children experience a joy in learning and as they jumped up and raised their hands to participate, I began to wonder why this same love of learning seems to decrease as our children grow older. What can we do to make sure that our children continue to be inspired by learning not only in their early years, but through high school and throughout their lifetime? School should always be this exciting! I believe it is our responsibility to create an environment that is nurturing to our children and this is a responsibility that is very important to both Adlah and me. It is our goal to make sure that all of our students have a safe, enriching, innovative, and modern environment with all of the curricular, co-curricular, extracurricular, program, and supporting tools necessary to continue to inspire them to learn and to be excited by learning just like the group of Kindergarteners today. It is through learning that we grow and by growing, we experience success. This is the success that we want for all of our students and in their success, we as a Territory will experience our true success.
We would like to thank the Kindergarten students and their teachers Ms. Oliver, Ms. Rivera, Ms. Forde, and Ms. Henley for the warm welcome today. We would also like to thank third grader Nadirah Nieves. She did an excellent job today as our hostess! We are looking forward to visiting you again soon.
We would like to extend a heartfelt THANK YOU to all of our Friends who attended the St. Thomas Headquarters Grand Opening and Post-Announcement Celebrations on both St. Thomas and St. John. We are extremely thankful to all of those coordinators and volunteers who worked tirelessly to ensure a wonderful evening and to the various speakers and Cool Session Brass for making each event memorable. We are especially grateful to the overwhelming support and words of encouragement that we received from our fellow Virgin Islanders who have put their faith and trust in us to lead our Territory into its prosperous future. We are certain that given the opportunity, we will indeed build a better U.S. Virgin Islands – together. Thank you for believing in us.
We understand that we are embarking on a long and arduous journey that may be filled with unexpected obstacles and roadblocks; however, we assure you that we are ready and we are prepared to navigate this difficult course, but we cannot do it without you – our Friends of Donastorg-Torres. Over the last year, I have traveled throughout the Territory listening to your concerns, sharing in your pain, and feeling your overwhelming loss of Pride and Hope – you, our fellow Virgin Islanders, who just like us are ready to finally realize all of the promise that we have yet to fulfill for our Territory. We have taken up your troubles, bearing your burdens, and carrying your crosses, because we believe in one U.S. Virgin Islands, “United in Pride and Hope”, and in the prosperity for ALL Virgin Islanders and not just those who wield the power. We are ready to uphold YOUR agenda, the agenda of the People of the U.S. Virgin Islands – not our agenda – because we are an extension of you, and you are an extension of us. However, in being your voice, we will also need you to be our voice – in your families, communities, workplaces, churches, schools, businesses, clubs, and other institutions – because “in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It is time for us to break our silence.
Be proud to be an agent of change! Be proud to be optimistic about our future under a Donastorg-Torres administration. Be proud to walk a path that seems uncharted instead of the usual beaten path which has lead us nowhere. Be proud to be able to bear witness to the dawning of a new day in the U.S. Virgin Islands. We – all of us together – can finally put an end to many of our vexing problems that continue to plague us. Our time is now and you, me, we are ready. Let’s Do It!
Yesterday, we spent the day celebrating “el Día de la Independencia Nacional de la República Dominicana” in St. Croix and what an amazing set of festivities it was! I always enjoy these opportunities to experience the various cultures of our Virgin Islanders and it is celebrations like these that remind me of how blessed we are to live in such a diverse society where we can all be enriched through cultural exchange. As such, it remains our priority to display and protect not only our indigenous Virgin Islands culture, but also embrace, encourage, display and protect the cultures of all Virgin Islanders no matter their national origin, because we are all Virgin Islanders.
Thank you to all of the organizers and participants of the various celebraciones de el Día de la Independencia Nacional de la República Dominicana 2014 in St. Thomas and in St. Croix and thank you for the continued opportunities to share in your cultural pride. Felicidades a todos nuestros amigos de la República Dominicana! Vamos a Hacerlo!
I would like to express my greatest appreciation to all of the Friends who joined us yesterday on the Friends of Donastorg-Torres Boat Ride from St. Thomas to St. Croix for AGRIFEST 2014. Your support was overwhelming as there were approximately 215 people who attended! However, it is not the support of our organization to which I refer; I am overwhelmed by your tremendous support for our fellow Virgin Islanders, no matter on which island we reside, which truly demonstrates our motto of being “United in Pride and Hope.” We are four islands, yet we are one Territory. Yesterday’s excursion proved this to be true as eager travelers from St. Thomas, St. John, and Water Island were welcomed with open arms by our St. Croix brothers and sisters to enjoy the Big Island. It was a wonderful day spent with family and Friends and especially by ending it with horse racing, which is one of our richest traditions. I would like to commend all of the organizers, vendors, and participants of the 43rd Annual Agriculture and Food Fair of the U.S. Virgin Islands who continue to ensure year after year that we are exposed to our agricultural richness as well as the richness of our culture through our tradition of local craftsmanship. Through your vision and commitment, our culture continues to be showcased and for this, we are thankful.
It was indeed my pleasure to take part in uniting Virgin Islanders this weekend. We are not only Crucians, St. Johnians, St. Thomians, and Water Islanders, we are Virgin Islanders. Water should be the only division between us; let us strive to continue to build bridges of Virgin Islands Pride. Let’s Do It!