REMARKS BY DR. THE HONOURABLE NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, CULTURE, YOUTH AFFAIRS, FISHERIES AND AGRICULTURE
AT 2021 EMANCIPATION SERVICE
SUNDAY, AUGUST 1, 2021
Good day and God’s blessings. This year’s emancipation holidays fall within a difficult period of BVI history. Still reeling from the most devastating hurricanes in our history, we are in the midst of the worst pandemic in 100 years, which has now claimed more than 30 lives. We extend sincere condolences to the people of the Virgin Islands who have lost loved ones.
It is important to know that, as a people, we have been through tough times before. This very celebration is an annual reminder that our people made it through one of the most gruesome and heart wrenching experiences since the beginning of the world, which is slavery. We also have had to endure a cholera epidemic in 1853 that killed 942 people. We are a strong resilient people, for we have suffered much, but we have always been able to overcome and enjoy bountiful blessings.
In the midst of our storms, we must not forget our shelter, the God that ushered our ancestors through difficult times. We must listen carefully to the third verse of the Negro National Anthem, written by James Weldon Johnson
“God of our weary years
God of our silent tears
Thou who hast brought us thus far along the way
Thou who has by thy might
Led us into the light
Keep us forever in the path we pray
Lest our feet
Stray from the places my God where we met thee
Lest our hearts
Drunk with the wine of the world we forget thee
Shadowed beneath thy hand
May we forever stand
True to our God
True to our native land
With God’s help along with adherence to wise counsel and being resolute in a principled purpose, we will triumph over this pandemic and other pitfalls along the way. But unity is the key, and we must not fall victim to the old tried and tested trick of divide and rule.
In addition to disease and natural disasters, we face threats to our ability to determine our destiny. The United Kingdom launched a commission of inquiry at a time when all our efforts should have been focused on saving lives and delivering progress for the people. The reality that the Prime Minister Johnson rejected calls for a Commission of Inquiry in the United Kingdom while allowing one to be imposed here speaks to the unequal partnership that exists with our administering power.
Any society placed under a microscope will have its flaws and weaknesses exposed, especially a society that has suffered great neglect and exploitation by its colonizer over hundreds of years. The United Kingdom like other societies is not immune to the alleged deficiencies being scrutinized here. The Guardian newspaper, a reputable publication from the United Kingdom published an article titled, “Under Boris Johnson, corruption is taking hold in Britain.” The subtitle reads, “Cronyism is rife, our system of checks and balances is being dismantled, and ordinary people will soon start to suffer.” That is just one article, but similar scathing claims can be made of the United States of America, Russia, China, and all throughout the world.
Among some persons, disillusioned because of what they may perceive to be this society’s weaknesses, an ill-advised sentiment has crept into conversations: “Let Britain take over for a while.” My people, I reject this mentality with every fiber of my being. Let us continue the work of developing our institutions, and educating our people. Let us use the tools of democracy, including public forums, responsible journalism, protest, debate, and even elections, but let us not surrender to the archaic and colonial tools that the world should have forgotten about long ago, such as take overs, imposed legislation, and imposed administrators.
Let us never forget where we were prior to 1950, with no proper healthcare, no proper education, no proper infrastructure. It is the advancement of our democracy and our local autonomy which has led to the gains in our society. And while we are extremely critical, let us not take for granted that we are incredibly blessed and enjoy a standard of living that many people around the world would hope and dream of. As bad as some think we are, we still attract people from all over the world who choose to call BVI home. We can’t be that bad. Our education system produces individuals who have topped schools abroad and even topped various industries abroad. No, we are not what some paint us to be.
In fact we have done well. And we have a lot to thank God for. Let us never be ungrateful for his favour upon us. Let us also be appreciative of our ancestors who have toiled hard to lay the foundation for our success. And let us never shy away from our responsibility to keep building these beautiful islands for the benefit of coming generations. People of the Virgin Islands, Happy Emancipation! Be safe and God bless!