A group of refugees from ancient Egypt were fleeing a dreadful condition. Some were nomadic people allowed to settle in the eastern region of the Nile Delta, and others were priests of a new monotheistic belief system that Pharaoh Akhenaton had firmly pursued in the 18th Dynasty.
Among these priests was a leader—Moses—who decided to lead his chosen people out of the Nilotic region of Ancient Egypt and seek a region in the Egyptian frontier. On his way out, Moses found new allies and new enemies. He observed a strip of fertile land in ancient Palestine that was already inhabited by civilized people.
Wisely, he sent 12 spies to engage in reconnaissance and a review of the existing cultures. To the dismay of Moses, 10 of the spies returned faint hearted and proclaimed that the new land was inhabited by “giants.” Only two gave favorable reports that the area was suitable for a new home of the refugees.
Enraged, disappointed, but wise, Moses took a U-turn and told his followers that they would have to remain nomads for two generations. The weak-kneed, foolish, and faint hearted would have to literally die out and a new people would have to emerge By all accounts, Moses had a terrible time transforming his followers and anger with those without faith was abundant.
For those of you familiar with the Judeo-Christian tradition, the above mentioned interpretation of Exodus should be easy to recognize. Today, we must ask: are we, the Virgin Islands people, undergoing a unique exodus? Haven’t we sent out “spies” to review ourselves the new global economy, especially the US Mainland and then they have returned to us faint hearted, complaining about giants?
Hasn’t this society for a decade encouraged the leadership to seek to understand the new societal terrain before us? And they too have complained that our problems are too big, our resources are too small, and “send help” our redemption comes from some federal takeover!
Unlike Moses and his followers, we may wish for forty years to pass for a die off of reactionary leadership and thinking, but our people cannot wait. The new year 2010 finds us fighting problems that have actually grown to gigantic proportions.
Last year 2009, our homicide rate was genocidal, and if we used that standard practice of measuring homicide per every 100,000 people, the Virgin Islands has emerged as one of the top five most murderous societies to reside in.
Officially, we witnessed 57 murders out of a Territorial population of 110,000 (legal) residents. The US national average is 5.8 per 100,000 people. The only societies with worse homicide rates are Iraq, Afghanistan, and Colombia—war zones. In 2009, we have managed to surpass El Salvador, Honduras, and Jamaica in homicide rates!
Clearly, in the US Virgin Islands, violent crime is mainly a social problem. As social problems worsen, criminal tendencies ripen. During the first decade of the 21st century, regardless of the political leadership, our social indicators show the creation and/or consolidation of a marginalized sector of our society.
Increasingly, the single parent household that was at one time complemented by extended families is under tremendous stress; too many mothers must work two and three jobs to make ends meet. If a supportive family structure exists, this struggling mother may stand a chance to provide for her family.
But what happens when this single mother is alone and the fathers are AWOL, abusive, and negligent? What happens to the single mother who has to raise rambunctious boys who turn even more assertive at puberty?
Equally important, for decades, the public education system served as an important line of defense for socialization of the best traditions in our young people. Also, there was a time when the public school served the silent role of supplemental parent that would instill discipline, intellectual curiosity, and academic preparation in our children.
Many in my generation can recall the steady hand of discipline, respect, and social cohesion by our teachers. This is not to say a few teachers should never have taught or that the olden days were a people in “garden of Eden”—far for it.
However, the public education system faces major problem — male student alienation—and the societal reaction is before us as plain as a mahogany tree. What is the leadership response to this phenomenon?
There are many who see gigantic problems that can never be solved. In 2010, we must overcome this mindset and wrestle with the heavy lifting and tough decision making that will turn our society around. Perhaps, the fainthearted will not die out within 40 years but local leaders who have no stomach to overcome our monumental problems will need to step aside and let new thinking prevail. We too deserve to live in our land of milk and honey.
Editor’s note: Malik Sekou teaches history and political science on UVI’s St. Thomas campus.
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