Statement By Honourable Natalio D. Wheatley On Emancipation Festival 2020


TUESDAY, JULY 21, 2020



Mister Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to update the people of the Virgin Islands on the plans for a 2020 Emancipation Festival.  Many persons in the community have been questioning whether this would ever be a reality due to the complications caused by COVID-19.  I can reassure the fine people of this Territory that there will never be a time while I am sitting in this Ministerial seat that we will not celebrate our emancipation from slavery in some way, shape, or form.  Our ancestors worked too hard for too long and went through too much to be ignored.

Mister Speaker, given all that is happening in the world and our society today, a focus on emancipation has tremendous benefits.  This year we celebrate 70 years since the restoration of our legislative council.  The ability for our people to vote and choose representatives accountable to them is an important development in our long walk to freedom.

Mister Speaker, we also are on the precipice of constitutional talks, and every advancement and gain that we successfully struggle for builds upon the foundation our ancestors laid in their fight against slavery.  Emancipation must be ever present on our minds as we seek to wipe clean any remnants of colonialism existing within our society regardless of how covert they might be.

Mister Speaker, we have also seen how the murder of George Floyd in the United States of America has sparked protests and movements for change all over the world.  We must understand here in the Virgin Islands how our emancipation and our struggle for autonomy are connected to the worldwide struggle for equal rights and justice.

Mister Speaker, along these lines and as Minister of Education and Culture, I have decided to commission the African Studies Klub to study the effects of slavery and colonialism on our education system and our culture.  I am requesting that this group of conscientious individuals present me with their conclusions and recommendations that I can consider and implement within the sphere of my ministry or submit to my colleagues for consideration.

So, yes Mister Speaker, against this backdrop, we will celebrate our emancipation, and celebrate it in such a fashion that gives honour to our ancestors, that educates our people, and that advances our cause as a people.  The theme for this year is appropriate for this purpose: “BVI Festival 2020: Be Fully Free: Emancipate Yourself from Mental Slavery as we Celebrate our Virgin Islands History!”

Mister Speaker, we all know that COVID-19 has impacted how we go about our daily lives.  Inevitably, our celebrations this year will look different.  COVID-19, however, has provided us with the opportunity to be more creative, to have more focus on our local arts and culture, and to make sure our heritage is properly recognized.  The slogan for this year’s celebrations is “Our Cultural Heritage in the Mix as BVI Festival Celebrates its 66!”

Mister Speaker, as a result of the economic impact of COVID-19, we cannot spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars that we usually spend “feting”;  as a result of the social distancing protocols, we will not be wukking up in a jouvert or, to say it correctly, our rise and shine tramp; Mister Speaker, we will not be prancing in the street on August Monday, but we now have the opportunity to reflect on how and why we celebrate our Festival.

Mister Speaker, this year’s festivities will be celebrated between 31 July and 5 August.  The festival will consist of both virtual events and physical events observing all the COVID-19 Social distancing and sanitization protocols.  Mister Speaker, I must emphasize our Festival will strictly adhere to safe distancing and sanitization protocols, and we are keeping a keen eye on the situation in the Territory as it pertains to the possibility of active cases.  Therefore, the current plan is subject to further review, and we will keep you, the people, informed if there is any reason to change these plans.

Mister Speaker, we will get the celebrations started with a Cultural Food Fair on the 31st of July.  This will be followed with a Virtual Opening Ceremony that will build upon the model of the recent Virtual Territory day celebrations.  You don’t want to miss it.  We will close off Friday with a Virtual Poetry Slam.  On the following day, Saturday the 1st of August, we will have a Farmers Market in Carrot Bay.  Last year this was one of the cultural highlights of the Festival with fungi music, food, and other cultural activities.

On Sunday the 2nd of August we are asking all churches in the Territory to have emancipation church services in the morning.  This will include our church service at Long Look Methodist church where we tell the story of the Nottingham free people, from whom I descend, manumitted in 1776. On that same day we will also be having a virtual emancipation service, and we will close the evening by putting on a Virtual Gospel Explosion with Kendra, Onekye, Jovan Cline, Dwight Hutchinson, Brent Hoyte and others.

On August Monday we will be having a Virtual VI Soca Showcase.  On August Tuesday we have a Virtual Calypso Review, and we close off our celebrations on August Wednesday with the Festival of Culture and Praise in Long Look/East End.

Mister Speaker, I also want to take the opportunity to ask businesses, government offices, and other institutions to do your part in celebrating our emancipation.  Decorate your offices!  Wear Festival T-shirts!  Have festival themed events!  Festival belongs to all of us, and we all have a responsibility to bring the joy of Festival into focus.

Mister Speaker, I am excited about the celebrations this year.  We cannot allow COVID-19 to rob us of our pride as a people.  We must lift our hands and voices and give thanks to God for his many blessings.  We have so much to be thankful for!  I am thankful for the opportunity to update the people on this important development.  Mister Speaker, I thank you!

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