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Conference Looks to Build Collective V.I. Vision

Keynote speaker on Friday will be Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat.Bridging gaps between different V.I. cultures and "forging an informed collective vision through thought-provoking exchanges" will be just some of the key goals for this year’s V.I. Humanities Council conference entitled, "We The People 2010—Building Community, Celebrating Diversity."
“We hope that this conference will incite critical thinking that facilitates moving in greater unity and social, economic and cultural exchanges,” said VIHC Executive Director Mabel Maduro.
The two-day exploration of V.I. cultural diversity kicks off at the UVI Administrative and Conference Center on St. Thomas on Friday, May 7 with a keynote address by award-winning Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat.
Hailed as one of the nation’s most promising writers by several magazines, Danticat recently received the coveted MacArthur Foundation Genius Award. Her work explores issues of migration and assimilation, through books such as “Breath, Eyes, Memory,” “Krik? Krak,” “The Farming of Bones,” The Dew Breaker,” and “Brother, I’m Dying.”
Danticat will serve as the Daniel L. Heftel lecturer for the evening. The Heftel Lecture series was started in 1990 to provide a forum for exploring humanities topics of interest. It is named after council co-founder Heftel, a St. Thomas businessman and civic leader.
The evening will also include the presentation of the Humanist Award to Dr. Alfred O. Heath. The award was established in 1992 to give recognition to Virgin Islanders who have made exemplary contributions to the cultural life of the community through the humanities. Past recipients have included Delta Dorsch, Ulla Muller, and Barbara Christian.
“Dr. Heath is noted for his humanitarian efforts in Haiti dating back to the ’70s. … And, he is constantly lending his experience as a doctor to those in need,” VIHC board member Elaine Jacobs said. “He is a Renaissance man, a musician, and he is the epitome of humility – the hallmark of a humanist.”
Friday night will close out with a reception and viewing of “All ah We,” a new exhibit by multimedia journalist Michael Nissman; photos of Hassel Island by the St. Thomas Historical Trust; and paintings by Augustin Holder in the Reichhold Gallery.
The second day of the conference begins at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at UVI and includes an opening keynote presentation by Azekah Jennings, Esq., senior conciliation specialist for the U.S. Department of Justice. Jennings served for over 20 years as Assistant U.S. Attorney in the territory and has a wealth of experience in conflict mediation.
From 10:30 a.m. to noon, a panel discussion entitled “Everyday Life Perspectives on Building Community,” will feature Gerard Emanuel, Mary Mingus, Alton Evans, Carmen Dennis, Nasseer Idrisi, Marilu Burnett-Stern and Simon Jones-Hendrickson discussing their diverse experiences. (Saturday’s program from 9:30 a.m. to noon will be simulcast to the Melvin Evans Center on UVI’s St. Croix campus.)
After lunch, the second panel discussion from 1 to 2:30 p.m., “Colloquium on Diversity,” will feature Tregenza Roach Esq., Whitman Browne, Gail Shulterbrandt, Tami Navarro, and Robin Sabino, sharing highlights from their scholarly papers on the theme, “Building Community, Celebrating Diversity.”
Also after lunch, Jennings will spearhead a cultural awareness workshop from 1 to 3 p.m. Pre-registration is still available.
The weekend activities will come to a climax Saturday at the Reichhold Center for the Arts from 6 to 9:30 p.m. for the Cultural Showcase, featuring a kaleidoscope of culinary samplings and artistic expression from different cultural groups represented in the Virgins Islands.
The lineup includes performances by African, Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Puerto Rican, and V.I. cultural groups. There will be storytelling by Glenn Kwabena Davis, and a demonstration by Ife Ni Jo. The Mungo Niles Cultural Dancers will round out the program.
Events are free to the public, except for the Cultural Showcase, which is $20 for adults and free for children under 12. Ticket locations include: Reichhold Center Box Office, Urban Threadz in Havensight, VI Bridal and Tuxedo in Tutu Park Mall, Essentric Show Boutique, Home Again in Red Hook, and UVI Bookstore on St. Thomas.
Sponsors include the National Endowment for the Humanities, the V.I. Lottery, the West Indian Corporation, the Department of Tourism and the University of the Virgin Islands. Other partners include the Reichhold Center for the Arts, the V.I. Cultural Heritage Institute, the V.I. Council on the Arts, the Division of Cultural Education, and Emerald Beach Resort.
For more information, call 340-776-4044 or visit www.vihumanities.org, or email tdaley@vihumanities.org.

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