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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, September 26, 2022
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Environmental Rangers Honor Four

Lukata Samuel, left, and Akintunde Ola Nini perform Capoeira, a Brazilian martial arts dance during the Environmental Rangers' event.Alphonso Wade III, farmer, storyteller, healer and community activist, had a story to tell Saturday that set the tone for the Environmental Rangers’ award presentation.

Wade was one of four environmental and cultural figures honored Saturday. The other three were: Dara Monifah Cooper, Gilbert Sprauve, Eddie Donahue and the Environmental Association of St. Thomas.

A year or so ago, Wade said, Mario Francis called asking if he could bring his Junior Gardening and Ecology Academy to Wade’s Dorthea farm for a tour.

"It had been a dry season," Wade said, "and the farm wasn’t bearing. I had to think what to do. So I took all my farm tools and laid them out on a table. When the youngsters came, I explained the use of each tool, and I asked them what was a three-stone fire."

"Nobody knew," Wade said, "so I explained if you didn’t know how to start that fire or use a coal pot, you wouldn’t eat hot food. It’s so important to teach the old methods to the younger people. It’s part of our heritage."

In dance, drums, song, and speech, the afternoon was an appreciation celebration – Asante Sana – for the four honorees, as well as a bow to the territory’s natural beauty with the implicit demand to preserve that natural heritage.

"Asante Sana" is Swahili for thank you. It was voiced by the audience, almost as a chant, throughout the afternoon, accompanied by drum beats. The drummers played mostly quietly all afternoon, providing a steady continuity.

"Who are we?" asked Anna Wallace-Francis, Addelita Cancryn Junior High School science teacher, who along with art and history teacher Leba Ola-Nini, mentor the Rangers with several other advisors.

"We are Virgin Islanders," Wallace-Francis said. "We are special people. We are here to save the environment, to preserve our natural resources."

Addressing the crowd of almost equally youngsters and community elders, Wallace-Francis noted the responsibility of all of us to pass on and receive wisdom. Becoming animated, a natural state for the vibrant environmentalist, Wallace-Francis pointed out the work the young rangers do. "We get in there, we dig, we plant," she said, while the group Rangers silently agreed.

She spoke passionately about the recent election, which saw the election of three St. Thomas senators – Clarence Payne, Myron Jackson and Tregenza Roach – who share an interest in preservation, cultural and environmental.

"I see a shift in the Virgin Islands with these senators," she said. "But don’t just elect them and sit back. We need to rally, get our projects before the people. We can make a difference. We’ve done it before with Mandahl Bay and Lindbergh Bay. It is up to us, to every one of us. We can do it, challenge authority."

The drummers sounded a loud agreement.

The Ranger youngsters kept the afternoon lively, introducing the honoree with an occasional song or dance. Eddie Donahue, the noted Montserrat playwright whose catalog embraces everything from political activist to dancer and designer, was honored Saturday for his constant efforts keeping the African-Caribbean history on the front burner.

Dara Monifah Cooper, left, Bernita Samuel of We Grow Food, and Cooper's daughter Majestik Petersen.Professor Gilbert Sprauve is a Virgin Islands man for all seasons. Born on St. John, Sprauve, a Spanish, French, Dutch and English Creole scholar, professor of modern languages at the University of the Virgin Islands, now retired, has cast a wide net over the culture of the territory. He has authored books, organized the V.I. Folklife Festival. If it’s in the interest of local culture or history, you can be sure he is involved.

Next Wednesday, Sprauve, in his storyteller capacity, will again lead the Fortsberg Pilgrmage tour on St. John to visit the site of the 1733 Enslaved African Revolution.

Wallace-Francis hailed Dara Monifah Cooper as the voice of youth, spreading her knowledge of the Internet through the Sankofa Saturdays Youth Cultural Education initiative, where she teaches culture, history and art through technology. She is editor of UVI"s Caribbean Writer, mother of three, and very modest in acknowledging her accomplishments, a quality all the honoree shared.

Last came EAST, the premier environmental association of St. Thomas and St. John. Its mission is to educate the community about the islands’ natural and cultural resources. Two of those physical resources, EAST president Jason Budsan and vice president Dalma Simon, spoke on the organization’s activities, especially with its collaboration with the Ranger.

The event closed with a violin piece by Isis Collier, 15, part of the duo, Sweet Strings, followed by a feast of local foods, natural and delicious.

The event was sponsored by We Grow Food, the Environmental Rangers Camp Umoja board and the Pan African Support Group.

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