An immense amount of work is currently being conducted to ensure that the 175th Emancipation Day celebration on July 3rd, 2023, is a successful and meaningful festival for the territory. Freedom Week is still months away, but the excitement and planning are already in full swing.
The Source has learned some new details about the festivities that will be occurring on the upcoming holiday after speaking with several individuals involved with the 175th Emancipation Commemoration Committee.
Honoring Virgin Islands Culture
Next year’s 175th Emancipation Day and Freedom Week commemoration will be a territory-wide celebration of liberty and history and paying respect to those who have contributed positively to the U.S. Virgin Islands and its culture. Plans include educational events, speeches, a music festival, and the revitalization of areas and sites with historical significance. The anniversary will focus on paying tribute to the past and building toward the future. The Emancipation Committee would like to invite everyone in the community to get involved.
Celebrating the Past
Honoring influential Virgin Islanders who have passed on will be one of the committee’s top priorities. “We will be identifying 175 contributors of culture, history, and tradition to the Virgin Islands territory-wide, with the designation of Keepers of the Flames. [These are] individuals who have passed, but their legacy lives on with the Virgin Islands,” explained former Senator and 175th Emancipation Committee Chairwoman Carol Burke.
The community will also have the opportunity to choose approximately 50 individuals for recognition. After selecting 175 individuals, family members will receive an invitation to a ceremony set for this December. And in early 2023, there will be a similar ceremony for “Living Legends” – men and women currently making a positive impact in the territory.
“We are working with the respective departments in the government to plan and develop activities, exhibits, and events to showcase music, art, food, and other features of our culture,” added Burke.
Revitalizing the Territory for the Future
There are plans for revitalization and renewal projects, including renovating areas and historical sites along Emancipation Drive and in Frederiksted on St. Croix, where new signage and monuments will be placed.
“At the entrance of Emancipation Drive (St. Croix) and Emancipation Garden (St. Thomas), we are going to construct two columns with flames. The flame is really a very central point of our celebration. We want to keep it at every juncture of our rolling out of events and activities. This is to highlight what freedom in 1848 and freedom in 2023 mean to Virgin Islanders. We keep the flame alive because we understand the struggle, sacrifice, and survival of those of us today and in the future,” notes Burke.
Maureen Burke-Ventura, architect and spearhead of the Capital Projects and Logistics Committee, states that the work will be completed in three phases, beginning with Emancipation Drive. “I am more than excited and happy to be able to offer my professional expertise in developing Emancipation Drive. The infrastructure and coordination of the pieces that will go together to enhance the Drive will ensure that it reflects the significance that it has to our Virgin Islands community,” said Burke-Ventura.
Governor Albert Bryan Jr. has designated $1 million to be used toward the celebration while simultaneously honoring the history and culture of Virgin Islanders. Chair of Corporate Sponsorship Committee and spokesperson for the 175th Emancipation Commemoration Committee Teri Helenese, hopes to raise additional funding for the activities by reaching out to various global and corporate sponsors, as well as nations that have played significant roles in Virgin Islands history — such as the “7 Flags” nations that once ruled the Virgin Islands.
Helenese stressed the importance of fostering a deeper understanding of the history of the Virgin Islands over the last 175 years, including the contributions and influence of the 7 Flags nations.
“Come Back to the Virgin Islands”
Next year’s sacred holiday will fully display cultural pride, strength, and resilience. The committee hopes to use the 175th Emancipation Day opportunity to celebrate the Virgin Islands’ history and inspire individuals to be a part of the territory’s future, including those who may have moved from the islands.
“Come back to the Virgin Islands. Explore our fantasy and our paradise. Stay with us and enjoy life in the U.S. Virgin Islands,” explained Chairwoman Burke when asked about the single most crucial piece to expect from the event as it pertains to celebrating history and looking forward.
Emancipation Commemoration Committee members include Khnuma Simmonds, Senator Myron Jackson, Jamilla Russell, Alvis Christian, Akeem McIntosh, Senator Carla Joseph, and Jelani Ritter, with Keyra Moolenaar providing administrative services.
The committee plans to hold a press conference with further details later in October.