On Thursday night’s episode of The Press Box, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. and Lt. Gov. Tregenza A. Roach faced tough questions as they addressed a room filled with students from the University of the Virgin Islands.
Students from both the Albert A. Sheen campus and the Orville E. Kean campus had the opportunity to present questions during a town hall setting of a room with about 50 students.
The host of the town hall was Shayla Solomon, who welcomed guests and said, “We are going to have a dynamic exchange of ideas.” UVI’s President, David Hall, said that the event is historic for both the Governor and Lt. Governor to allow the students the opportunity to ask questions.
Describing the students at UVI, Hall said, “They are the ones who chose to stay with us in the Virgin Islands, even though they had other options. They are the ones who chose to come here from other islands, even though the world beckoned them to go other places.” He continued, “Those choices were made because they knew that they are the destined leaders of the Virgin Islands, the Caribbean, and the world.”
During Gov. Bryan’s welcoming remarks, he said to the room of students, “I really want to have a conversation with you. What’s on your mind? What are you thinking? As we embark today, we are building a Virgin Islands that you should know.”
The first question came from Student Government Association President, reigning Miss University of the Virgin Islands, and reigning Miss National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame, Jackeima Flemming. “Oftentimes, as young people, we are left out of the conversations. The important ones that are responsible for guiding and molding our future,” she said.
Flemming asked about the economic diversification plan and part of its intent of boosting the population of the Virgin Islands by 10 percent between now and 2040. “How do you plan to achieve this goal, and what steps are to curve the brain drain and provide attractive opportunities to graduates to stay here in the Virgin Islanders?”
Lt. Gov. Roach, who praised the university for being important to him and a “transformative force” in his life, sponsored a bill to provide Virgin Islanders with the opportunity to gain free tuition said that the question was an important one.
Roach said a few years back the Caribbean Research Center found that there were about 60,000 people in the United States mainland who were born in the Virgin Islands, and in many instances, when you engage those people, their children have a strong affinity for the islands. “I think that’s a beginning place to reaching that population.”
“They represent a segment of our population that have made contributions to the territory. I believe that is a beginning place.” Roach also said that another important part is to provide the quality of life that people look for when moving to a place.
“When we complete the transformation of our schools, health facilities, and the infrastructures such as roadways and power, we will also contribute to making the Virgin Islands an attractive place to come, as well as improving the quality of life for the people who live here,” said Roach.
The bill was important to also bring together the Virgin Islands Department of Labor and other departments to forecast the needs of our populations as it continues to grow and make sure the job offerings and education meet the needs of the Virgin Islands.
Another question asked by a student was the update on wearing masks and COVID mandates and what Virgin Islanders can expect with the decrease in COVID cases.
“We are in a good place as far as immunity,” said Bryan. The governor said that he will announce at his weekly Government House updates on Monday, Feb. 28, that he plans to lift a lot of the restrictions.
“If everything goes right by the end of May, I think the masks will be gone,” said Bryan. He also mentioned that he gave the directive that by March 1, every single government employee must return in person.
Other questions asked to the leaders ranged from housing in the Virgin Islands, work being done on St. Croix, recreational opportunities, mental health, and law enforcement, to name a few.
“Sitting with you tonight and seeing how bright you are and listening to your comments and concerns always powers me up to do more. I always remind myself that I can’t do it alone. I need your help. Not only with the work but in spreading the word that we are building the Virgin Islands that is going to be second to none, and you are going to run it.”