Jewels of the Virgin Isles is a feature series profiling Virgin Islanders in the diaspora who are excelling in their respective fields and/or positively representing the USVI abroad.
Patricia T. Morris is a power player in the field of women’s rights and gender equality worldwide. The descendant of a family of politically and culturally aware women, Morris is also a modern-day Virgin Islands culture bearer who helps to instill rich traditions of call and response and quadrille dance to a new generation of Virgin Islanders on the U.S. mainland. In fact, her life is playing out like a well-crafted puzzle that allows her to tap into her passions in her personal and professional lives.
By day, Morris lends her expertise to world leaders in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America as a women’s rights activist and gender equality expert. Having perfected her craft for more than 20 years, Morris was recently tapped to lead the international nonprofit organization Women Thrive Worldwide in Washington, D.C.
In this capacity, she advocates to bring the voices of women around the world directly to decision-makers in the nation’s capital. For this St. Croix native, the work is a labor of love as she educates women at a grassroots level on how their perspectives and solutions shape policy to eradicate poverty, violence and inequality.
“At an early age I learned that, to get what I wanted, I needed to be heard,” Morris says. “I feel incredibly blessed to partner with women and girls to ensure that their voices are heard inside the halls of power where decisions that affect their lives and communities are made.”
With such a large professional footprint, it is easy to see why Morris feels a great sense of responsibility. She says her life has been heavily influenced by her mother, Pastor Claudia Walker; local poet Vivian Hester Bennerson; her grandmother, Mary Mathilda Henry; her other “mothers,” including relatives and members of the Women’s Fellowship at the Friedensberg Moravian Church in Frederiksted.
“These wonderful women let me know I was special, and their love and guidance are the foundation of my success. Because they believed in me, I believe in myself,” Morris says.
So how did a young woman from an 84 square mile island become an international expert on women’s issues? Simply put, by spending time with her grandmother.
“From the time I was very young, my grandmother would always say, ‘Patsy, get yo’ education.’ I did what she told me to and graduated from St. Croix Central High School in 1977.” Morris obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Jacksonville University and Bowling Green State University respectively. She then completed a Ph.D. in international politics from Florida State University in 1994.
“One of my biggest regrets in life is that my grandmother did not live to see me get that education and surpass her expectations,” she says.
Prior to accepting her role at Women Thrive Worldwide, Morris worked in international development at a number of institutions, including the leading international development coalition InterAction, and taught at Purdue and Clark Atlanta Universities.
However, despite the myriad countries her travels have taken her to, Morris, whose motto is “Keep deh culture alive,” keeps a very special place in her soul for the Virgin Islands. Her love for quelbe music and quadrille dance led her to collaborate with other Virgin Islanders in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area to form the Capitol Quadrille Dancers, where she serves as the grand floor master/caller.
She is also a member of St. Croix-based “We Deh Ya” quadrille dance group and admits to flying home for just one day to dance quadrille on Christmas night. “I believe it is important to keep the V.I. culture alive,” Morris says. As local calypsonian “Pepper Pat,” Morris, has broken gender barriers and made V.I. history as UVI’s first calypso monarch.
Morris has passion for the islands and says she hopes to see a female governor lead the territory one day. “I think women lead differently than men, and many of the challenges we are facing in the islands today require new and different ideas if we are to identify and move forward with sustainable solutions,” she says.
“At my organization, Women Thrive Worldwide, we say that one woman’s voice can change the lives of many and a multitude of women’s voices can change the lives of millions.”
One thing is clear: Morris is on the right path to changing the world – one woman, one village, one country at a time.
Nugget for V.I. Youth: “There is no place on the planet that has as many talented, creative youth per capita as we do in the V.I. Our young people want to contribute their skills and ideas, their talent and creativity to make a difference at home. To our youth, I say you can change the islands and you can change the world. To our leaders I say, let them do it.”
Little Known Fact(s): “I almost bought a house in Accra, Ghana, my favorite place on the African continent, because of the Fetu Afahye celebration, which reminded me of masqueraders and festival time on St. Croix, and the beautiful market women who reminded me of my grandmother and her sisters and all my Frederiksted mothers.
Loán Sewer is a marketing and tourism consultant and proud Virgin Islander who resides in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter @LoAnSewer or e-mail her at info@Lotalkstourism.com.