“From Then Till Now: The Legacy Of Virgin Islanders United, Inc.”
-From The Archives of V.I.U.-
“Created for Virgin Islanders, By Virgin Islanders…,” would be an appropriate description of how Virgin Islanders United, Inc. came to be. This New York based civic organization dedicated to the U.S. Virgin Islands was founded, on January 17, 1999. The following (8) distinguished individuals, are the founders of Virgin Islanders United, Inc.:
Assessing the thriving greater West-Indian community within New York, and seeing that there was insufficient, or inconsistent representation of the Virgin Islands, the founders decided to address that issue, through the formation of a strong, and innovative V.I. based organization. From the onset, the founders realized the need for the organization’s thrust to be primarily civic in nature. However, there was also a need for an equally strong social thrust as well. So, the founders set out to ambitiously design an organization that would provide the best of both worlds, civic and social, and ultimately become a full-service organization for Virgin Islanders both at home and abroad. The original slogan for the organization was “Three Islands, One Love” denoting the then (3) Islands that constituted the U.S. Virgin Islands. Years later however, the slogan was changed, to acknowledge the addition of Water Island to the territory chain, and also to reflect a more global tagline, “Taking the U.S. Virgin Islands & The Caribbean to the Next Level of Performance!”
Upon setting up the infrastructure and ground rules of the organization, through the implementation of a Constitution, the founders then set their eyes upon the task of electing Leadership: Kevin Hughes was elected as the First President of V.I.U.; Anna Branigan was elected Vice-President; Ivor Penha, Treasurer; & Karen Nelson-Hughes was elected Secretary.
The V.I.U. Hurricane Relief Fund - Created to aid and assist the people of the Virgin Islands in the event of a Hurricane, or flood. Most organizations go into disaster relief mode only after the hurricane is approaching or has already struck the Virgin Islands. Acting on the philosophy of being proactive rather than reactive, the V.I.U. Hurricane Relief Fund is active 365 days of the year, ever vigilant and ever prepared should the Virgin Islands be the unfortunate victim of this natural occurrence.
Chairpersons of the (3) National programs were later added to the constitution and became elected members of the Executive Board in addition to the officers. Upon solidifying the structure of the organization the door were open for membership.
Little did we know that starting this organization would lead us to the creation of our signature event. An event so large in its scope, that it would literally come to define V.I.U. as an organization. This was the beginning of - Caribbean Cultural Fest.!
The first Caribbean Cultural Fest., and those that have subsequently followed, all had one thing in common - “Caribbean Star Power!” From the very beginning, the festival attracted the biggest names in Caribbean music. The event quickly rose to prominence in the New York Caribbean, outdoor, concert scene. Caribbean Cultural Fest. has become known as the place, where you can see Icons, performers who literally define the genres of Quelbe, Calypso and Soca Music: Stanley & the Ten Sleepless Knights-live and direct from the U.S. Virgin Islands; Shirlaine Hendrickson, The Soca Monarch of Trinidad & Tobago; Singing Francine, The 5x International Calypso Queen of The World; Calypso Rose, The Undisputed Calypso Queen of The World; The Legendary Chalkdust; Celebrated Crucian Calypsonian, Prince Galloway & Whadablee, The Calypso King of The U.S. Virgin Islands.
In the Brass Band division headliners like the Small Axe Band representing St. Kitts/Nevis, Lashing Dogs Band representing the British Virgin Islands, and in the headliner category the pulsating sounds of P’Your Passion, and the Fabulous Imaginations Brass representing the U.S. Virgin Islands have graced this world stage.
The festival is home to an enormous vendor village where native foods, drinks, and wares representative of our Caribbean heritage are sold. Additionally, the Festival has featured “mocko-jumbies” (stilt-walkers), a “kiddie-korner” for the youngsters, plus an outdoor wrestling exhibition called “Action Wrestling” featuring wrestlers from the Caribbean & the U.S.
What’s a festival without “live” Pan? The CASYM Steel Orchestra Panorama Champs, NYC; as well as the Shooting Stars Steel Orchestra representing The British Virgin Islands have filled this niche. We also feature “live” reggae music from the likes of “Kindred,” “Chopper Ranks” and “Major Lee.”
An exciting and much anticipated entry into the 2004 Caribbean Cultural Fest was the Virgin Islanders United Quadrille Dancers led by their instructor Earl Herbert. This group of performers consisted of V.I.U. members and friends, and the students of the South Bronx Job Corps. We look forward to watching these dancers evolve as they take on the town with this traditional Virgin Islands call and response dance reminiscent of days gone by, complete with madras attire.
Virgin Islanders United, Inc. has been recognized by several elected officials both in the Tri-state area, and in the Virgin Islands, for our attempts to spotlight and preserve the rich, diverse culture of the Virgin Islands and the Caribbean at the Festival. This world-class event has become one of the most anticipated and revered events of the N.Y. Carnival season.
However, the festival aside, we should take this opportunity to expand more upon V.I.U.’s more singularly social events - our parties! These days, crowd pleasers like “The Golden Caribbean Ball", & “The Carnival Jamboree Ball”, are always held at Spann Hall. A venue suitable for these events, because of it’s immense size, & ambiance. Today, V.I.U.’s parties have literally quadrupled in size, and are more appropriately dubbed “super-parties”, because of the sheer numbers of people, which they attract. Suffice it to say, that this organization knows how to throw a good party! V.I.U. has struck the proper balance between their dual nature as both a civic and a social organization - “we work hard, but we play even harder!”
V.I.U., while remaining true to our V.I. heritage, and representing Virgin Islands causes, has been able to do so, while still carrying high visibility and respect, among other Caribbean Nation’s circles as well. This is because V.I.U. constantly reaches out to other Islands & their organizations. As a result, our fellow Caribbean brethren have come to learn and respect the traditions & people of the Virgin Islands through V.I.U. - and we are very proud of that! V.I.U. has an open door policy, “we are always ready & willing to work with anyone, who is ready & willing to work with us!”
- To preserve, respect, & spotlight the rich & diverse culture of the U.S. Virgin Islands!
- To inform, educate, and increase the awareness of the Virgin Islands & it’s people to the world at large.
- To assist in improving the economic, political, educational, cultural, and social opportunities for Virgin Islanders within the tri-state area, and in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- To Champion the cause of civil rights for all Virgin Islanders regardless of race, sex, color, or religion.
- To provide assistance to the Virgin Islands in the event of a Hurricane or flood.
- Unite Virgin Islanders throughout the Virgin Islands & the tri-state area.
- A continuous memebership drive.
- Have a mutually beneficial & productive relationship with other civic & social public interest organizations, both within the V.I. community & outside of it.
- Conduct voter education and registration drives within the tri-state area.
- Setting a positive influence and example for the Virgin Islands youth to follow - So, that they would want to seek out & stay true to the Virgin Islands heritage, wherever in the world they may be.
V.I.U. has won awards of recognition, letters of accommodation, and has been featured in articles and publications both in the Virgin Islands & New York City. A bill sponsored by Senator Adlah “Foncie” Donastorg, was passed honoring & recognizing the importance & contributions of V.I.U. to the people of the Virgin Islands.
The organization has gone on to sponsor a plethora of world-class events & programs, which benefit our people including: The Miss Virgin Islanders United Pageant; The Caribbean Entrepreneur’s Seminar, The V.I. Black History Celebration; Calypso Moonlight Cruise; The Old ‘Tyme V.I. Fish Fry, Virgin Islands Weekend In New York, and many others to numerous to mention here, but readily accessible to you, through-out the pages of our website.
V.I.U.’s success is credited to its members. The members come from various professions, backgrounds, and degrees of expertise. In fact, a close study of the V.I.U. membership reveals that many members are also active in other professional & civic groups as well, including: several International Fraternal Brotherhoods & Orders; The National Association of Black Journalists; The United Federation of Teachers; N.A.M.I.C., The National Association of Black Social Workers; 100 Black Men, Inc.; The N.A.A.C.P.; and The U.S. Army Reserve.
V.I.U.’s official color is Red, which represents the precious “life-blood” of the Virgin Islands, which is all of us - it’s people! The organization’s auxiliary color is turquoise, representative of the flowing waters of the ocean, which surround the Virgin Islands.
Lastly, the members of V.I.U. since it’s creation, until this very day, believe in one primary thing - one core thought: “To Never Forget Where We Came From!" This “prime directive,” governs our programs, our events, and all of the good work, which we do. The members of V.I.U. have pride and an unmatched love for our homeland! Our association works, and will continue to work tirelessly to for the benefit of our Territory and our fellow Virgin Islanders wherever they may be! Virgin Islanders United, Forever!
GOD Bless The Virgin Islands!
Virgin Islanders United, Inc.
“Taking The U.S. Virgin Islands & The Caribbean To The Next Level of Performance!”