More than 25 people from New York, including members of the New York City council, labor union leaders and their families recently wrapped up their Annual Black, Latino and Asian Legislative Labor Retreat on St. Thomas, following a week of humanitarian work in some areas of the community that need it the most.
“This year we decided, due to the weather conditions that hit the territory hard, that we would turn it into a humanitarian effort,” said New York City Councilman Andy King.
The annual retreat – which King spearheaded when he was chairman of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus of the New York City Council – marks its fourth year in the territory. King said he specifically picked the Virgin Islands not only because he spent his honeymoon on St. Thomas, but because of its relevance to their work as New York City lawmakers.
“You can look all over the globe for some place to sit down and relax, but we are Democrats in the United States, so why not support and patronize the US Virgin Islands which bears our name,” said King.
“When you come down here, you see the blacks, you see the Latino, you see the Asian, you see labor,” he added.
The New York delegation spent the last week helping out local organizations and doing general cleaning “on the sides of the roads,” according to King. On Thursday, they picked up rakes and machetes and helped clear debris and cut through overgrowth at Bethlehem House, the St. Thomas halfway house operated by Catholic Charities for the homeless. The facility and its neighbors were thankful, said King, that the overgrown lot was cleaned up.
On Friday, the delegation drove up to Tutu to help build outdoor tables and picnic benches for My Brother’s Workshop, which is donating them to active schools on the island whose outside seating has been destroyed by the hurricanes.
“Building tables for our kids, for the school sessions, so they have a place to just sit their books down and just eat their lunch,” said King, pointing at the freshly assembled tables laid out in the sun, products of a few hours of their work.
My Brother’s Workshop founder Scott Bradley, who will deliver the tables to schools within the week, said he is grateful for the support from the off-island organization.
“It’s really been wonderful having all these representatives and councilmen come out and lend a hand and work side by side with our young people, so they can connect and have our young people connect with our off-island supporters and people that were just so vital in the early days after the storm,” said Bradley.
In the aftermath of the 2017 hurricanes, King said he and his wife pulled their neighborhood together and packed a 40-foot trailer with pallets of water, batteries, diapers, food and other non-perishables and shipped them to the territory in the early months after the storm so “people can have hope.”
“At times like this, it was a no-brainer for us to figure out how to help,” King said.
Sen. Myron Jackson (D-STT) hosted the New York delegation at the Earl B. Ottley Legislative Building the day before, a tradition for the last four years that fell to Jackson as the current senate president. Like Bradley, Jackson was thankful for the delegation’s current efforts and their help in the territory’s “darkest hour.”
“One thing we don’t emphasize enough is the Virgin Islands diaspora in the New York area,” said Jackson, who is considered the senate’s de facto historian by many of his colleagues at the Legislature.
“Many of these councilmen and legislators and their union leaders represent Virgin Islanders in the New York area who have lived in the New York area for generations or relocated in the New York area, mostly third and fourth generation Virgin Islanders,” said Jackson, and King agreed.
According to King, the process of rebuilding will take everyone doing his share, however small the effort may seem, so the community can return to a sense of normalcy.
“In order to rebuild, everyone has to pitch in,” he said. “Whether you live here or you don’t, we’re asking everyone, if you’re walking down the street, pick up some debris, pick something up, throw it in the trash. If you can, just give somebody a hug just to make their day a little better.”