Community narratives, one aspect of community oral history, can be powerful unifying agents in helping to bring about unity among residents/citizens. Narratives gain life and traction in response to events or happenings within the wider and or smaller community, the global or local scene. For example, the resignation of the British Prime Minister-Liz Truss-and the appointment of a new Prime Minister-Rashi Sunak-injected new variables in the narrative on the Territory's charge to comply with and respond to the COI's recommendations. One item of that charge which B. V. Islanders have been commenting on overtly, covertly, and profusely is the failure of B. V. I. Government to observe the legal tendering process fully. The Rt. Hon. Jesse Norman, MP, in his letter citing the performance review of the goveŕnment response to the COI's recommendations, referred to the continued disregard for the legal tendering process. The local narrative speaks to this indictment on the Territory, clearly expressing the people's displeasure with the process. The leaders need to listen to and respect the voices of the electorate. I am selecting two narratives from our history to support my position.
The first one is the narrative demanding in-Territory secondary/high school education in the 1940's. This narrative grew out of discrimination, suppression, and negligence, if not disdain, by the Federal Government of the day. Of the four political units constituting the Leeward Islands Federation the only one that did not have a secondary school was the Virgin Islands. Parents who wanted their children to attend secondary school sent them to St. Kitts or Antigua. When the consciousness of Virgin Islanders awoke from its colonial slumber, the people made demands for a secondary school. In 1943 the government started an experiment called the Senior School(there was nothing senior about it) which the people rejected because it was a replica of the Elementary School. In 1946, two out of its fifteen students passed the Standard Seven Examination set for Elementary School children. The determination of the Commissioner to build a Junior Secondary School for practical work met with fierce resistance from the people. The narrative became so strong that the Governor, Sir Brian Freeston, had to travel from Antigua to solve the problem. When he tried to support the Commissioner's view for a practical school, he heard the voices of H. R Penn and J. O. Georges in the Executive Council, faced the stature of Stanford Connor and the demonstrators with placards, and listened to the united voices of the Methodist Church led by the Superintendent Minister, Rev. Donald S. Ching supported by the Anglican Vestry. This united front was so powerful that the Governor was forced to establish a secondary school following the same pattern in the other islands. The Virgin Islands Secondary School was born in 1948, five years after the 1943 Senior School Experiment began.
The second narrative was the demand to restore an elected Legislative Council. The narrative germinated and began to feed on the discontentment, and general assumptions across the Territory. This was growing for several years until the leaders, Theodolph Faulkner, Carlton L. deCastro, and Glanville Fonseca took up the mantle, led the charge and organized the 1949 March requesting the removal of the Commissioner, J. A. C. Cruickshank, and the return of an elected Legislative Council. History tells us what happened-the Legislative Council came into effect in 1950 and J. A. C. Cruickshank demitted office. You can get more details from my soon forthcoming book"The Dawn of a new Day:
B. V. Islanders Reclaimed their Homeland."
Today, the community narratives are circulating but we do not have the lesdership "to bell the cat." We need leadership with fire to burn the dross and light a forward path. This is the biggest challenge facing us and as our forebears taught us"if you play with fire you will get burn." Those forebears fought for us vehemently and gracefully. Are we fighting for future generations? Our identity, the strength of our character as a people, our resistance, resilience, fortitude, the accumulated wisdom as Virgin Islanders are being diluted, weakened by design and blind unbelief and "carried downward by the floods." Listen and reflect on the prevailing narratives. "Who will go for us?" (Isa. 6:8). Do not allow history to condemn us as "lame ducks" in this challenging pond.
- Dr. Charles H Wheatley